Anyone who thinks high school tennis isn’t exciting did not see Bellingham’s 4-3 win over Sehome in a match-up of Northwest Conference heavyweights.
With the match on the line at 3-3 and possibly the boys’ league championship as well, here were two of the area’s best young prospects, sweating out every point with a large tennis crowd screaming support on every shot in twilight on Bellingham’s courts.
And the winning point?
A virtually unreturnable back-line shot by Bellingham sophomore Henry Ziels, who is in his first full season as a varsity regular.
His remarkable shot landed inches from the baseline in the corner, ending a 7-5, 6-4 comeback win at No. 4 singles over Sehome sophomore Darren Ma on Monday, Oct 6.
“I looked up and suddenly realized no one was left playing but us,” said Ziels, who rallied from being down 1-4 in the first set and 4-3 in the second set. “I had never been in any position like that. (At the start of the season), I would not have thought that would be me. At the beginning of the match it was hard, but I blocked out the noise and just concentrated on every point.”
Four days earlier, Bellingham (11-0 overall, 10-0 NWC with four matches left) claimed a 5-2 win at Sehome (7-2, 7-2 with five matches remaining). But the Mariners pressed the Red Raiders to three sets in four of Bellingham’s wins.
Last year, the teams traded 4-3 wins to tie for the NWC title at 13-1.
Think this isn’t a classic rivalry?
Red Raiders coach Steve Chronister — who guided Sehome’s boys for 22 seasons and is in his 15th season at Bellingham — was especially proud of Ziels.
“Darren Ma looked good,” Chronister said of the Sehome prospect. “That’s what makes me especially proud of Henry, because I thought Ma looked really good. Coming from 1-4 behind in the first set like that was just huge for Henry and our team.”
This time, both teams won three straight-set matches.
Sehome’s No. 1 and 2 singles players, juniors Max Shmotolokha and Brady Anderson, swept to victory over Bellingham seniors Connor Thompson and Charlie Carmichael. Shmotolokha won 6-1, 6-3 and Anderson prevailed 6-2, 6-2. At No. 3 singles, Bellingham junior Austin Shenton defeated Reece Gilbert 6-4, 6-2.
At No. 3 doubles, Sehome senior Aaron Goldfogel and sophomore William Zhang beat Bellingham junior Lucas Garrett and senior Walker Garrett 6-2, 6-3 to produce the 3-3 tie.
Bellingham seniors Logan Schilder and Nate Pearsall defeated Sam McNamee and Wyatt Brugge 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 doulbles. At No. 2, Bellingham senior Chris Nakatani and sophomore Zach Nolan improved to 11-0 by sweeping Dane Faris and Henry Han 6-2, 6-2.
Shmotolokha suffered his only two set losses of the season four days earlier when he defaulted to Thompson in the third set. But the tall, talented Sehome junior made coach Bonna Giller proud in the rematch.
“Max was very composed today. He played his game … I’m very proud of him,” Giller said. “He has come a long way since his match with Connor last week.”
Shmotolokha said learning about composure and hydration is making all the difference.
“I wasn’t cramping and I was more focused today,” he said. “I played like I normally do. It’s fun (to be composed) and it’s good for the team. My goal is to get better and better and really improve for the team, and I feel Iike I’ve been doing that.”
Shmotolokha said his summer workouts helped him win fall challenge matches against Anderson, who was last year’s No. 1 singles player and is still always, as Giller said, “just a real steady Eddie on and off the court. Brady was very solid today.”
“I kind of grew up a lot this summer,” said Shmotolokha.
The same could be said, quite literally, of Bellingham’s 6-foot-4 Zach Nolan, who was 6-foot-1 as a freshman.
“Zach is my third different partner since my sophomore year,” said Nakatani. “I didn’t know he would be my new partner, but coach Chronister put us together because I usually play right side for forehands and Zach plays left side. Zach’s sense of humor keeps me loose, because whenever I’m down, Zach cracks a joke and I’m OK. I love it!”
Nolan was excited to learn he would have a mentor for a partner.
“Today, Chris did a nice job of staying in the point,” Nolan said. “He was strong both at the net and on the baseline. We were playing safe and smart.”
“We played easy and safe,” he said. “It just shows that (Zach) can teach an old dog new tricks.”
Shenton, a junior who missed school sports as a sophomore because of an early season football injury, is enjoying being back in tennis.
“I haven’t played much tennis (because of his baseball commitments) but last Thursday, I learned in that first-set loss not to always go the big shot, to be more patient,” he said. “Today, what I learned paid off.”
Shenton, in fact, will miss several matches in order to play in a baseball tournament in Florida, but said he will be back for districts.
“I’ll start playing Wednesday (Oct. 10) in the tournament. I’ve made a verbal commitment to the UW (University of Washington) for baseball,” he said. “But right now I’m having a lot of fun playing tennis. It’s a great group of guys.”
Bellingham 4, Sehome 3