BELLINGHAM - Sehome's unprecedented local sweep of a post-season girls' tennis tournament was even more challenging than it seems for a team with only one senior.
Ali Morrow, a sophomore who played No. 3 doubles during the Mariners' 15-0 dual match season, played singles for the first time in the Class 2A Northwest Sub-District Tournament.
Her victory in a winner-to-district, loser-out match enabled Sehome to qualify all three singles entrants and all three doubles teams for the Northwest District Tournament May 20-21 at Granite Falls.
"I was definitely battling for our team," said Morrow, who beat Anacortes senior Paola Jurkovich 6-3, 6-3, on Tuesday, May 12, before a huge raft of teammates' cheers for her, long after sophomore Lauren Smith won the singles title and sophomore Lizzie Friesen and junior Simone Hall claimed the doubles championship for Sehome.
"I'm really psyched to be playing singles in my first postseason," said Morrow, who like her teammates played in pink for breast cancer awareness. "I really like singles. But I was definitely nervous all the way through the tournament."
Coach Bonna Giller, who has guided numerous solid teams at Sehome, said she "couldn't be prouder of Ali and couldn't be prouder of all the girls. Even though we have a long way to go (at districts to get to state), this is an unprecedented showing for Sehome in a tournament."
Morrow earlier in the day eliminated Squalicum's Ali Anders 6-0, 6-0. Morrow provided a hint of how tough she could be with a 6-3, 6-3 loss to aggressive shot-making champion Smith two days earlier in the quarterfinals of the tournament, which was a modified double-elimination event.
"Ali Morrow is just (mentally) tough as nails," said Giller, bursting with enthusiasm for the sophomore's gritty tournament showing. "I am just so proud of her."
In the all-Sehome championship matches, Smith beat junior Andrea Clawson 6-2 6-1 for singles honors and the Friesen/Hall doubles team defeated junior twins Taylor and Madison Harris 6-3, 6-3.
In the loser-out consolation bracket, with district spots at stake, the Sehome doubles team of junior Natalie Knops and senior Emily Webster qualified for district by turning back a spirited effort by Squalicum's Kim Dorr and Sarah Byron 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
In the other winner-to-district consolation doubles match, Bellingham senior Catie Welch and freshman Elllie Iwersen beat Sedro-Woolley's Bridget Janicki and Emily VanLiew 6-4, 6-2.
In the final decision of the day, the city of Bellingham finished with a historic sweep of every spot in a postseason tournament as Red Raiders senior Kira Vazorka upheld city pride with a noteworthy 7-5, 6-4 win over Sedro-Woolley's Kassidee Beuse.
"What made that match so cool for Kira," said Bellingham coach Steve Chronister, "was that Beuse had beaten Kira in straight sets in their previous two matches this season. That match showed just how mentally strong Kira was, and what great condition she's in."
Vazorka said she "gained a lot of confidence" with her loser-out win over competitive Bellingham teammate Mariah Miller 6-0, 6-4. "Mariah is a fine player (a junior who may be No. 1 next season) and a real sweetheart. She was pulling for me (against Beuse)."
Sehome's Smith, who teamed with Clawson to win last year's state doubles, said she fervently hopes this is only the first of three possible Smith-Clawson title matches, with district and state also possible for the two standouts. In the semifinals, Clawson fought off Jurkovich 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
"We're pretty even," said Smith of she and Clawson. "Today is a little bit of a surprise. Neither one of us felt any pressure, since we had both qualified for district (going into their match)."
As for Smith's willingness to aggressively attack for winning shots with an impressive forehand, she said the feeling comes naturally.
"I don't know. I guess I just always try to be aggressive," said Smith, who, as usual, was as humble as could be.
Friesen and Hall, who played singles during the regular season, are excited by their quick development as a doubles team.
"We were really active at the net and we were truly excited," Friesen said. "It's so great to have someone like Simone playing with me."
"I like playing doubles," Hall said. "It's good to see we have such a deep team. To see all our girls cheering for us is a great feeling."
Bellingham's Welch said she didn't know much about Iwersen, a freshman, before the season.
"It didn't take long to see how good Ellie is, but we also have really good chemistry," Welch said, knowing that Iwersen may have picked up a racquet before she could walk, coming from a tennis family.
Iwersen might have won any award for nail style - a dramatic black polish look.
"Ellie really made a couple of clutch shots that pumped me," said Welch, including a cross-court Iwersen kill to make the final set 5-2. The girls quickly put the match away.
"Just keeping the ball in play and not over-hitting worked for me," Iwersen said.
The Squalicum team of Dorr and Byron had a long day. They started a championship semifinal match at 8:30 a.m. because Byron had to take her fourth Advanced Placement test in less than two weeks. Friesen/Hall beat Dorr/Byron 6-1, 6-1.
In the only four matches on Tuesday, May 13, Vazorka and Morrow will play for third/fourth seeding at district, as will doubles qualifiers Knops/Webster and Welch/Iwersen. Monday's consolation singles and doubles finals losers will play for district alternate status (fifth place).
CLASS 2A NORTHWEST SUB-DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Championship semifinals: Lauren Smith (Sehome) def. Kassidee Beuse (S-W) 6-2, 6-2; Andrea Clawson (Sehome) def. Paola Jurkovich (Ana) 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Championship finals: Smith def. Clawson 6-2, 6-1.
Consolation round (loser out): Kira Vazorka (Bell) def. Mariah Miller (Bell) 6-0, 6-4; Ali Morrow (Sehome) def. Ali Anders (Squal) 6-0, 6-0.
Consolation round (loser out): Vazorka def. Beuse 7-5, 6-4; Morrow def. Jurkovich 6-3, 6-3.
Championship semifinals: Lizzie Friesen/Simone Hall (Sehome) def. Kim Dorr/Sarah Byron (Squalicum) 6-1, 6-1; Taylor Harris/Madison Harris (Sehome) def. Catie Welch/Ellie Iwersen (Bell) 6-3, 6-4.
Championship finals: Friesen/Hall def. Harris/Harris 6-3, 6-3.
Consolation round (loser out): Natalie Knops/Emily Webster (Sehome) def. Carly Anderson/Kylie Berlin (Ana) 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-1; Bridget Janicki/Emily VanLiew (S-W) def. Tess Owen/Keri Brauner (Bell) 6-3, 6-4.
Consolation round (loser out): Knops/Webster def. Dorr/Byron 6-4, 4-6, 6-3; Welch/Iwersen def. Janicki/VanLiew 6-4, 6-2.