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Mercer Island girls tennis preps for tough schedule
Tennis is a popular sport on Mercer Island, and the Mercer Island girls tennis program is solid proof of just how much the Island loves the game. This season the team has a solid 15-player roster for varsity, but with depth that runs far into the JV team.
“Last year we had 14; this year we have 15,” said Islanders head coach Mindy Blakeslee. “It just worked out that way. We had a really competitive tryout for varsity this year, and there’s probably 6 or 7 deep on JV that could have played varsity; it was that close. Any of those girls would play varsity at any other school. It’s really hard; it’s really competitive.”
With that solid roster, and several returning key players, the Islanders have their eyes set on a repeat of last season’s sweep, but this year Blakeslee said she scheduled some tough teams. The Islanders will not only be taking on the traditional KingCo powers, but have a few non-league matches on their schedule to test them for the postseason. Last season the Islanders won the KingCo, district and state titles.
“Newport is the (big) one on the calendar, May 2, but we also have Seattle Prep and Holy Names. I scheduled some tough ones — I think it’s going to be tough to repeat last year, but that’s OK,” said the coach, adding she’s excited to test her team.
“We’d love to win state again,” said captain Kelly Crandall. “But it’s going to take a lot of work, and we need a lot of players to step up.”
Captain Erica Baska, another senior for the Islanders, said they are pretty confident early in the season and are excited to play Seattle Prep and Hanford later on in the year.
One of the biggest reasons the Islanders have been unstoppable, as of late, is simply the depth of the team.
“We have a lot of depth, and it goes way into JV,” said Blakeslee. “I’ve been bringing JV players up because we have an odd number to practice. It’s actually a good thing because we have so much depth, but it’s also a bad thing because I have 15 girls and can only play 10 each match, which is tough. They get to come to all the matches and I’m pretty aggressive about asking other schools to make their players play twice. We have six courts but seven matches to play, so there’s always some time, so I try to get them all in.”
Returning for the squad are top singles players Chelsea Bailey and Nora Tan, who finished in the top six at state last year. Blakeslee said the team also has quite a few players returning who play in tournaments and other events in the off season, helping prepare them for the spring.
“That’s where we win it, is with the depth. It seems like when you get to districts and state, everyone has a couple really good players, but it’s the ones who have more (that win overall),” said the coach.
The team played an early season tournament in Yakima and won it, despite the cold weather and strong winds giving the team its first dose of the outdoor season. It was also a good chance for the coaching staff to see where and if the team has any holes.
“We need to work on our match toughness. We need to work on doubles — most of them don’t play doubles a lot,” she said.
This season, a league rule change means that KingCo teams which finish in the top two of the league have a shot at sending three singles and three doubles teams to districts, and possibly state, compared to two last year. Last year, Blakeslee said having only two spots made her a little nervous, knowing where the team wanted to be — but this season, if they can get the max out of districts, she expects things to go well.
The team, of course, would love to see another state title trophy head home with them in May, but Blakeslee said the one big thing missing from last year was the individual titles.
“I feel like that’s the one thing out of the perfect season we had last year — we had two seniors last year that worked so hard, and I would have loved to have gotten them titles,” she said.
Of course, for now, the team is just hoping for some good weather so they can get out on the court. The Islanders will take on Lake Washington on March 24 at the Lake Washington court, and will host Sammamish on April 12 at home.
3/24 at Lake Washington
4/12 vs. Sammamish
4/14 at Interlake
4/21 vs. Juanita
4/26 at Liberty
4/28 vs. Bellevue
5/2 vs. Newport
5/3 vs. Mount Si
5/5 vs. Issaquah