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Girls double up for state
By Matt Phelps
Pressure is an element that any athlete has to deal with in a playoff or tournament. But with 24 state titles for the Mercer Island High School girls tennis team, pressure takes on greater meaning.
If the Islanders are to capture their 25th state title, they will have to do it with just two entrants into the state tournament, and both are doubles teams. Mercer Island managed to win the district tournament title.
``We have been lucky throughout the years,'' said Mercer Island head tennis coach Joyce Hedlund. ``We have been able to get three or four onto state. This year it is going to be tough with just two.''
But the Islanders will have a few elements on their side. Both doubles teams -- Audrey Morton and Liz Oldenburg, and Taylor Gwinn and Ashley Nield -- have senior players, both teams have been to state before and most teams take just two seeds to state, compared to the Islanders usual four.
``We just have to think positively,'' said Hedlund. ``I need to take one match at a time.''
Ironically, the latter is what Hedlund always tells her players. On May 22 and 23, her doubles teams did just that, as both made it to the finals of the district tournament.
Oldenburg and Morton took home first place and the No. 1 doubles seed to state with a 6-2, 6-3 victory.
``In doubles play you need to be strong in net play and neither of us like it,'' said Morton. ``But I think our strength is that we have been able to win with our ground strokes.''
An all-Mercer Island district final was a best case scenario. An all-Islander final is what the team will be shooting for at state.
``That would be the best possible out come,'' said Oldenburg. ``We have a little more pressure to win (the state title) and continue that tradition. But we are all seniors and we can handle the pressure.''
Gwinn and Nield earned the No. 2 seed during the semifinals with a victory over a Seattle Prep Panthers team 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-2.
And although that Panther team also advanced to state with the No. 4 seed, there is one Prep team that Oldenburg is glad will not be at state. Over the first three years of Oldenburg's career she advanced to state only to lose to a three-time state champion Seattle Prep team.
``I am glad they graduated,'' said Oldenburg. ``I think this is our chance.''
Last year Oldenburg and Morton made it to the finals as a team but the postseason was the first time the two had paired.
``We are a lot better than last year,'' said Oldenburg. ``Our communication is a lot better and I think we are more relaxed.''
Gwinn and Nield also teamed last year and have experience on their side.
One player that made it to districts for the first time was Islander Amelia Carpenter, who came into districts as a surprise No. 2 seed out of 3A KingCo singles. Carpenter came away with fifth place and the first alternate to state.
Carpenter earned a lot of experience during the district tournament, begining with a big 6-0, 6-2 victory. But her loss during the semifinals 6-0, 6-1 knocked the sophomore out of contention. Carpenter may make it to state with an alternate spot, as Tiffany Vo from Newport took third place at districts by injury default over Michelle Ludtka. If Ludtka can not play, Carpenter would take her place.
The boys and girls state tournament will take place all this week at the Nordstrom Tennis Center at the University of Washington.