Sports

Tennis’ tradition and talent

Islander girls tennis senior co-captains, clockwise from lower left, Michele Zemplenyi, Erica Leong, Adrianna Bernal and Jessica Winterbauer will help lead Mercer Island this season. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Islander girls tennis senior co-captains, clockwise from lower left, Michele Zemplenyi, Erica Leong, Adrianna Bernal and Jessica Winterbauer will help lead Mercer Island this season.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

The Mercer Island girls tennis program is one of the most successful of any Washington high school athletic program, with 33 state titles. With that type of tradition, expectations are high. Last year, the team won the league and district titles, and Chelsea Bailey and Michelle Zemplenyi took second in state for doubles. But a 34th team state title had to wait.

“We are pretty solid this year,” said Mercer Island coach Joyce Hedlund. “They are interested in winning state and would like to hang another banner. They are working toward that tradition.”

It has become tradition to see a Bailey compete at state. Chris Bailey, Chelsea’s brother, competed at state for Mercer Island and now the sophomore has her eyes on a prize that not even her brother could attain — high school singles immortality through an individual title. No one on the team is certain if Bailey and Zemplenyi will split up to give the team a better chance at that banner, come postseason play. But Bailey’s spot as the No. 1 singles player during the regular season is not in doubt.

“Last year, I took every match so seriously,” said Bailey. “I regret not having as much fun and taking everything so seriously.”

Hedlund said that Bailey has improved in many ways during the offseason, but the most important is her diversity of stroke selections.

“She is seeing the beauty in a slice and other strokes,” said Hedlund. “Maturity breeds finesse.”

Zemplenyi said she is fine with whatever decision is made about who her partner will be. But getting that state title in doubles is still her goal.

“I would love to still play with Chelsea,” said the senior, who has a perfect 4.0 GPA. “I want to try and get as far as I can, but I want to have fun since this is my last year.”

Seniors Jessica Winterbauer, Erica Leong and Adrianna Bernal, along with Zemplenyi, will all serve as team captains.

“I need them to take care of the team so I can concentrate on individuals,” said Hedlund.

And that team is rather large, despite the fact that the program as a whole has seen some decline in numbers. Two years ago, it peaked at 105 players. This year it is down to 73. But the numbers are deceiving, as Hedlund said that the quality is much higher overall.

“Tennis is for everyone, but these are not tennis lessons,” said Hedlund. “This is a tennis team.”

One player who has improved a great deal during the past nine months is sophomore Kelly Crandall.

“She has been a surprise,” said Hedlund. “She has worked very hard and is very hungry and young.”

With the change in the league, Mercer Island will see some new opponents. Hedlund said that she expects Bellevue and Sammamish to give the team its best competition during the regular season. Former longtime league rival Newport and Lake Washington will add a challenge from the 4A non-league schedule.

“It is very important to beat good teams, no matter who they are,” said Hedlund. “But it will be nice to face Newport. It’s important to maintain all of our traditions.”

The tradition of hanging banners is the biggest, come June.

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