Watching her girls’ tennis team this preseason, Sehome coach Bonna Giller on multiple occasions has paused before exhibiting a mile-wide grin.
Giller knows she’s fortunate. Every day after school the Mariners coach gets to work with arguably the most talented roster in the state’s 2A classification.
“The other day at practice when we ended practice I talked to them,” Giller explained in a phone interview. “I said, ‘You know, it’s such a pleasure watching you play, because you are so good. You execute well.’ Their technique, their sportsmanship, they are all real close.”
Last spring Sehome embarked on what was widely regarded as the best season by any Whatcom County tennis team, winning a team state title with 41 points. It sent three singles players and three doubles teams to state. All three doubles teams placed, including the pairing of Simone Hall and Lizzie Friesen, who won a state title, and two of the Mariners three singles players placed.
Sehome is known for producing top-flight tennis teams, but the Mariners were never as good as they were last season. And with everyone returning minus Friesen and Emily Webster, there’s little reason to believe the Mariners couldn’t turn 2015 into a remarkable encore performance.
Giller, though, would say not so fast.
“I think they have the skills to,” Giller said, “but I believe (last year) the moon was aligning every week. People thought we steamrolled everyone and the scores indicated that, but there was a lot of sweat out there, and it didn’t come easy. The boys won back-to-back in 2009 and 2010. I think our points were 18 and 23, and that is pretty standard. I don’t think we’ll see scores like (last year’s) again.”
Sehome’s talent is unquestioned, but sheer skill isn’t what makes the group so successful.
Most of the girls play year-round at the Bellingham Tennis Club, where they spend one-on-one time with instructors, and others compete in United State Tennis Association Tournaments. A singular focus on one’s self exists during the offseason’s nine months.
At Sehome, team tennis is pushed to the forefront.
Egos exists, and it’s justified with so many competitive, hard-working players trying to be the best, but Giller’s top priority is ensuring the team plays for the emblem on its uniform, not individual prestige.
“My job is to get all those egos, and there are egos, to work for one common goal, and that is the hard part, to get everybody to buy in as a team,” Giller explained. “These kids make it easy for me. They love team tennis.”
In fact, before Sehome played its first match, Hall, one of the Mariners two team-voted captains, approached Giller with a proposition.
Challenge matches allow players to compete against a teammate in order to settle who’s playing better and thus should be ranked higher heading into a team’s match. The Mariners’ skill is so close throughout the varsity team, a challenge match could go either way on any given day. Plus, as Giller explained, high tension displayed during a challenge match can extend to hard feelings off the court.
Hall proposed the idea of eliminating such matches.
“Especially at the beginning of the season, you come in there and people from last season are trying to figure where you are going to be and it can tear apart the team really quickly,” Hall explained in a phone interview. “It becomes more individual and less a team sport.”
The team unanimously voted for Hall’s idea, and the agreement is just the latest case in how unified Sehome knows it needs, and wants, to be.
The Mariners have high aspirations again, but they are taking everything in stride. One thing’s for certain, they know they’ll need to play as one if they dream of emulating last spring’s success.
“We don’t look that far in the future,” Hall explained. “You don’t want to set anything in stone and that is all you think about. You want to think about the matches you play weekly, and try to play the best individual matches. That will set the course for the rest of the season.”