Sehome girls' tennis rolls to team title

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 31, 2014 

SEATTLE -- Sehome sophomore Lizzie Friesen didn't know whether to laugh or cry as a bittersweet look came over her face, moments after she and junior Simone Hall won the Class 2A state doubles championship over junior teammates Taylor and Madison Harris.

Friesen won't get a chance to defend her title, since she'll study in France her junior year, but she is well aware she will be scoring an ace, education-wise.

But she had the satisfaction of helping the extraordinary nine-girl Sehome team to a state record 40-point performance along with the Mariners' first state title on Saturday, May 31, at the Nordstrom Tennis Center.

The Harris twins, who split with the Friesen/Hall team at sub-district and district, didn't hesitate when asked if they were ready to do it all over again as seniors.

"Totally!" said Taylor, who helped her sister take a 6-4 first-set lead before Friesen and Hallwon the final two sets 6-3, 6-1 for their third three-set win in four state matches over two days.

"I'd love to!" said Madison with equal enthusiasm.

"Oh, I'm going to France for my whole junior year," said Friesen, realizing the finality of knowing she'll never get to play the Harris twins again. "One of the saddest things about making my decision to study in France is not being able to play tennis for a year. But I'll be back as senior."

Hall, however, also won't be able to play with Friesen again, since she'll have to snag another partner as a senior next year to help the best team in Whatcom County history defend its state title.

Not that Hall will lack of talented choices. Since Sehome has only one senior among the record nine who qualified for state from districts - all three singles players, all three doubles teams - Hall will surely find a talented partner if she does not play singles, as she did during the Mariners' unbeaten dual-match season.

"It's intense, but it's more rewarding," Hall said of being challenged by talented teammates like the Harris girls in a state title match.

That pretty much matched the feelings of all the Sehome girls along with longtime coach Bonna Giller.

Now that it was all over, Giller didn't hold back her feelings about how hard her girls had worked and how well they got along together.

"This goes well beyond Whatcom County (in terms of excellence)," Giller said, when told she unquestionably had the best team in county history. Giller couldn't help feeling her team could give any squad in any classification a dual match for the ages.

Bellingham coach Steve Chronister, one of the state's most experienced coaches, tipped his cap to Sehome.

"No doubt, no doubt about it, they're the best team ever out of Whatcom County," he said. "And I've had some really good ones. But Sehome is absolutely the best we've ever had from our county"

Sehome sophomore Lauren Smith defeated Pullman's Tori Berditchevskaya 6-4 6-1 to earn a spot in the finals against defending Class 2A champion.Chloe Goyette of Yakima West Valley. Goyette, who gave up only three games in four state matches, beat Smith 6-0, 6-1.

"She was definitely my toughest opponent," Goyette, a state-ranked sophomore, said of Smith. "It was a good match, closer than the score shows. I thought it was crazy, looking at how many Sehome girls qualified for state. I thought I was seeing double or something."

Smith agreed she played a competitive match.

"We went to deuce a lot," Smith said. "I thought I battled pretty well. She (Goyette) had a really good tactic of lobbing until she could come to the hit and hit a winner. But I won't face her any more except in summer tournaments, because West Valley is moving up to Class 4A."

In defeat, Smith was already thinking of playing for the title the next two seasons.

Another Sehome sophomore, Ali Morrow, claimed fifth place in singles in her first visit to state. Morrow, who went 3-1 at state, claimed a 6-4, 6-1 win over Chaney's Katelynn Smedley after defeating Renton's Kimberley Hoang 6-0, 6-1 in the semifinals.

"I'm pretty surprised to get this far as a sophomore," said Morrow, who played third doubles in the regular season. "I thought I battled well all the way (since sub-districts). Today was my best match of the season. And it was so much fun to have 12 athletes from Sehome (including three boys) at state."

Her sophomore classmate, boys' state medalist Brady Anderson, couldn't have agreed more.

"Ali played super well," he said. "She wasn't as tentative. You could see her confidence building."

Sehome captain Andrea Clawson, who had an exceptionally tough draw, lost 6-1, 6-0 in the consolation semifinals to Lindberg's Liezel Villanueva, but Clawson had a fine season.

"I definitely played some of the best girls at state," said Clawson, a junior who teamed with Smith to win last year's state doubles title. "I'm glad I got to play them. I think it made me better. I'm not really happy (with a 1-2 finish at state), but I'm not disappointed in myself. I feel very lucky and proud to be part of such an outstanding team. It really is an amazing team. I loved being captain. It made me realize how much fun tennis can be and what great connections you make with teammates."

The pepper pot, ever-bouncy Harris girls won in the semifinals 6-3, 7-6 earlier in the day over stubborn teammates Natalie Knops and Emily Webster, the Western Washington University-bound soccer scholarship player and the team's only senior in the remarkable state lineup.

Knops, a junior, and Webster earned the sixth-place medal in a 6-0, 6-1 loss to the West Valley team.

"I never expected to get this far," said Knops. "I couldn't have asked for more support from teammates."

Webster said she'll never forget her only year in competitive tennis.

"I wish I could come back and play another season with them," Webster said. "I would have laughed (if she had been told as a raw rookie that she would wind up with a state medal). I can't say what a fun season this has been."

"The girls did everything I could have asked," said Giller, whose team's 40 points more than doubled runner-up West Valley's 17. "This team deserves a lot of credit. I am incredibly proud of our girls."

Chances are, she may have to look for more superlatives next season. And, chances are, she'll be able to find them because, as she said, "We worked as hard as we could for this."

Goyette's record in state tournament corrected on June 2.

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