When the Region 11 Girls Tennis Tournament gets underway during the final full week of September, there’s no doubt the teams will be well acquainted with one another.
That’s because for the first time in several years they will all play each other in a home-and-home series during the regular season. When you factor in the Cache Valley Invitational, plus the region and state tournaments, athletes from the valley could potentially square off five times during the 2019 campaign.
The Wolves put together a solid season in 2018 as they placed third at the region tourney. Green Canyon must replace about half of its varsity team from a year ago, but should still be a strong contender to finish in the top half of the region standings.
“We have a lot of expectations, but I’ve told the girls repeatedly that my No. 1 objective is not wins and losses,” said GC head coach John Mickelson, who raved about the character of his girls. “It’s that when they are my age they look back and say (high school tennis) was a great experience. Now if they win, it’s going to be more fun. But I look back at my high school (days) and I don’t remember who I beat; I don’t remember that at all. But I do remember going to dinner with my teammates, I remember the fun of being on the teams (and) I remember it just being a good experience because of who was there.”
The Wolves are led by junior Alli Phillips, who was the region champion and a 4A semifinalist at No. 2 singles as a sophomore. Phillips is playing in the No. 1 position this year.
“Well, Alli is a good leader (and) she is so inclusive,” Mickelson said. “She makes everybody feel like they are a part of the team. She has an extremely high competitive spirit, so she just brings a ton to the group.”
Green Canyon’s No. 2 singles player is senior Madi Gray, who was a state quarterfinalist at third singles last year. Junior Phoenix Davis has been competing at third singles in 2019.
Green Canyon’s doubles teams are comprised of Grace Goble (Jr.) and Olivia Phillips (Fr.) at the No. 1 spot, and Reagan Baxter (Sr.) and Gracie Beecher (So.) at the No. 2 position. Sicily May also brings varsity experience to the Wolves.
The Grizzlies finished second in the region and tied for fourth at the 4A State Championships in 2018, and are primed for another good season.
For starters, Logan welcomes back Annie Spach, who combined with then-senior Heather Roskelley to capture the region and state title at No. 1 doubles. The senior is competing at that position again, this time with sophomore Kennedy Jenkins.
Just like the previous two years, Logan and Ridgeline should be legitimate state title contenders at No. 1 doubles this fall.
“Yeah, that will be exciting,” Hammel said. “I’m glad there’s going to be some good competition. ... It’s wonderful that we always seem to go head to head in (big matches).”
In addition to Spach, Logan welcomes back two other competitors who qualified for state a year ago in No. 1 singles player Yeeke Wang and No. 3 singles player Taylor Fang, a senior. Wang, a junior, was the region runner-up at the top spot a year ago.
Junior Nicole Lambert is currently holding down the No. 2 singles spot, with the tandem of Amie Liu (So.) and Jennie Leo (Jr.) competing at second doubles. Junior Jisung Leo could also figure into the varsity mix for the Grizzlies, who have a good mix of veterans and youngsters.
“I’m very happy that we’re giving the younger girls a chance to play varsity tennis, because that really helps them improve,” Hammel said. “And then we have a solid group of seniors that are helping us out, and then of course some good juniors, so I’m feeling good about how there’s a good spread.”
The Mustangs are the most inexperienced team in the valley as No. 1 singles player Rachel Powell is their lone player with significant varsity experience. Mountain Crest head coach Pam John praised the junior for her work ethic.
A pair of seniors round out the Mustangs’ singles lineup in Alli Schroder (No. 2) and April Francis (No. 3). Francis has been nursing an injury, so Ashley Randall has filled at the No. 3 position in a couple of matches.
Mountain Crest’s No. 2 doubles duo of juniors Raegan Taylor and Brooklyn Robins have elevated their level of play and have been bumped up to the No. 1 spot.
“They have both been steady players ... and have been easy to coach,” John said.
Junior Abbie Murray and sophomore Kate Hardy are currently teaming up at No. 2 doubles.
Sky View, Mountain Crest and Bear River all finished within three points of each other at last year’s region tourney. John feels her squad has enough talent to improve on its fifth-place finish, but strides must be made.
“You know what, we’ve done all right in preseason,” John said. “I think it will be up to them and their desire to go to state, and do that extra practice on their own time. I’m confident they can do it, but it will be if they want to do it. They’re good tennis players, (but) they have to start believing in themselves. ... If they play their game, they can do well and have a lot of fun out there, but we’re in a tough region.”
The Riverhawks are gunning for their fourth straight region title, and with returning state champs Naya Tillitt and Madi Brenchley, plus veteran Lucy Lyons, they will be the favorites again. Additionally, Ridgeline should challenge for a second consecutive 4A championship.
“These girls work so, so hard, and I think this year with having Lucy and Madi together, we’ve got a pretty good shot,” Ridgeline head coach Juliann Daines Ellis said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge with some of our new varsity players, but I think they’re ready to go for it.”
Brenchley, who went undefeated at third singles last year as a sophomore, and Lyons have joined forces at No. 1 doubles. Lyons, a senior, was a 4A semifinalist at No. 2 singles a year ago.
Leading the charge for more team glory is Tillitt, who is the most decorated and accomplished high school player in the history of the valley. The senior is the heavy favorite to bring home a fourth state title in a row at No. 1 singles.
“It’s crazy impressive,” Ellis said of Tillitt’s work ethic. “It’s such as example to all of our girls on the team. She kind of inspires the other girls around her to work harder. ... I know that her training program is pretty intense and she’s really dedicated to the sport, so it’s been a really huge advantage to our team that way just to have that kind of ... example for the other girls.”
Ridgeline’s other singles players are sophomore Meera Gardner (No. 2) and junior Myriam Anderson (No. 3). Halle Kendrick (So.) and Liv Wright (Sr.) have been playing No. 2 doubles.
With five seniors, headlined by Green Canyon transfer Rachel Dursteler, Sky View might be the most improved team in the region this year.
The Bobcats strongly suggested this by giving the Wolves all they could handle last week before falling, 3-2. Of the three matches Sky View lost, two were decided in three sets.
“It was very encouraging,” SV head coach Anna Lyne said. “Nearly all of the matches were very competitive. ... We were very pleased with how our girls played, how they stuck with it and disappointed of course that we couldn’t take the win, but we were still very happy with the way the team played that day.”
Dursteler is Sky View’s top singles player — a position she competed at as a sophomore and junior — while Dana Kim has started the season with a bang at No. 2 singles. The senior was a state qualifier at third singles last season.
Junior Rachel Lattin, who played first doubles a year ago, has fared well at third singles so far.
Sky View’s doubles teams are comprised of Rachel Chipman (So.) and Alijah Thedell (Jr.) at the No. 1 spot, and Emily Coombs (Sr.) and Saydee Godfrey (Jr.) at the No. 2 position. Chipman played second doubles last season.
“I want them to have fun because when you have fun, you play well, you play better,” Lyne said. “So we want them to have fun and hopefully good tennis will follow that. Hopefully, we will have a very successful season and hopefully we will do better than last year, because that’s our goal is to do better each year.”