Chemistry matters in high school tennis.
Ask any of the doubles teams in the Class 2A district championships and they’ll all tell you the same thing.
“I think it’s really important,” Squalicum’s Kevin Smiley said. “For doubles, it’s pretty much the main thing.”
That simple fact was on full display Wednesday, Oct. 22, at the Bellingham Tennis Club, when Bellingham’s duo of Nate Pearsall and Logan Schilder and Squalicum’s team of Drew Segren and Smiley advanced to the semifinals of the district championships.
But what distinguishes the two teams is a matter of a couple dozen matches.
The Squalicum duo hasn’t played together all season, yet were paired for the playoffs for the third straight season. Bellingham’s seniors on the other hand have been together since freshman year.
Yet neither had problems winning their quarterfinal matches.
Segren and Smiley defeated teammates Liam Brownlie and Carter Nickelson 6-3, 6-1, and looked as if they’d been paired together all season. But chemistry doesn’t come easy for the two.
“I feel like we were really focusing on trying to work as a team more than just trying to go solo and win like that,” Smiley said. “I think we did pretty good together as a team.”
For Pearsall and Schilder, it’s a much more instinctual feeling. After all, they’ve been playing together for four years. One is bound to figure out the ins and outs of their partner’s game and it showed in their 6-4, 6-2 win over Sehome’s Henry Han and Dane Faris.
“It’s definitely big,” Pearsall said. “We know what each other is going to do. We don’t need to talk to each other. We know which one of us is going to switch and all of that.”
What also helps Pearsall and Schilder is the skill set each has, Bellingham coach Steve Chronister said.
The 6-foot-11 Schilder, who stood out above the eight players on the two courts even from the far spectator end of Bellingham Tennis Club, is almost the exact opposite of the much shorter Nate Pearsall.
They also play at the same skill level — neither one holds the other back — an extremely beneficial asset to any doubles pairing, Chronister said.
“They’ve always been about the same ability just in a different way,” Chronister said. “I’ve always thought they were effective as a doubles team.”
Despite the strong chemistry, the Red Raiders’ team by no means pulled away from Han and Faris.
The duo didn’t pull away until it was 4-1 in the second set.
“The Sehome kids just kept scrapping and hanging in there,” Chronister said. “We missed a few shots that we’d rather not miss. But we made a lot of great ones. ... Our guys are pretty strong and powerful, so they do that well.”
For Segren and Smiley, it was a slightly quicker match but the two had to deal with something that doesn’t happen in the regular season — playing teammates. Brownlie and Nickelson have been a duo all year and weren’t a walkover for the No. 2-ranked team in the bracket.
But despite the four players knowing each other well, it was all business when they stepped on the court.
“You’re usually having a lot of fun in practice, messing around and stuff,” Segren said. “Once you get into district matches, you have to stay focused. You’re not supposed to be jumping around.”
Another thing all eight players got to experience was playing indoors after rain delayed the tournament on Monday and Tuesday, forcing the matches to be scattered across Whatcom and Skagit County Wednesday.
The benefit to playing indoors is there is no wind or no sound, Chronister said.
The overhead lighting, however, provided a new challenge.
“The lighting is a bit different too. With the lighting above our heads, we have to track the ball a little more,” Segren said.
It’s also a lot hotter, Smiley joked.
In the semifinals, Segren and Smiley will play Shorecrest’s Wacker and North, who beat Bellingham’s Chris Nakatani and Zach Nolan on Wednesday. Pearsall and Schilder will play Sehome’s Reece Gilbert and Darren Ma, who advanced earlier in the day at Skagit Valley College.
In the morning matches at Skagit Valley College on Wednesday, Sehome’s Max Shmotolokha and Brady Anderson advanced to the singles semifinals. Bellingham’s Charlie Carmichael also advanced to the semis in the singles bracket. Bellingham’s Connor Thompson slid to the consolation bracket after losing to Carmichael.
On Thursday, play begins at 8 a.m. at Skagit Valley College.