Angela Moniaga, a junior, is the first Mariner player to play at a local tennis club in Marauders' head coach Rich Mar's seven-year tenure. Having a solid No. 1 singles player helped the Marauders to an 8-8 regular season record, their best finish since 1998.
"She showed up and looked like she had played before," said Mar, who has been the varsity coach at Mariner for five years. "We usually get people just picking up the racket as ninth graders and they've never even hit the ball before. In the past we've relied on people who were athletic and tried to teach them tennis."
Moniaga started taking lessons at the Mill Creek Tennis Club after her freshman year. The Mariner No. 1 singles player isn't the only one to benefit from the extra time on the tennis court. Moniaga is able to share the information she learns, such as knowledge about footwork and where to aim when returning shots, with her Mariner teammates.
"I learn a lot at my tennis club. And what I learn in doubles, for example, I'm able to show my team," Moniaga said. "I can share with them, this is what I do, this is what I've been taught. If you're in this position you should do this."
Taking lessons has given Moniaga a significant advantage on the court this season. She is the lone Mariner player to join a club, while Mar says other schools have freshmen that have been playing for years.
Mar estimated that Wesco South 4A co-champion Jackson had "no less than 10 kids in their program that have significant club experience." He said that facing teams like the Timberwolves and Kamiak, who have several players playing tennis outside of the school program, makes the season an "uphill battle" for the Marauders.
"One thing is having a good No. 1 helps the team because it allows others to play at a slightly easier competition. In addition to that, she brings some of the experience she's gotten in her lessons, so she'll help others with their stroke," Mar said. "In the past we haven't had a solid No. 1, because up here in Washington with the weather they're only playing during the season or a little bit in the summer."
Moniaga is thrilled with the success Mariner has had this season, and hopes to continue that success in the postseason and beyond.
"Our season's going great," she said. "It's been 15 years since our girls won eight matches. I feel very proud of my teammates. We worked hard to get here. I feel like this year we have a better unity as a team. We bond, not only on the courts but outside of the courts. We hang out together off the courts. The unity is probably the strongest it's ever been."
The junior said her motivation for joining a club was to get better. Once she saw what she could do on the court, and how hard she could hit, it sparked a desire to continually get better.
"I like the competition. And I want to prove to myself that I can be just as good," Moniaga said. "I love tennis, so that motivates me to train and get better. After I saw what it was like (at the club) I thought, 'Wow. I really want to get serious with this.'"
Mar said there actually have been meetings among the state's tennis coaches to discuss grouping the schools into divisions, based on the average level of play of the school's players. The divisions would be an effort to make the leagues fairer for the schools that don't feature a lot of club players, such as Mariner.
"Tennis is a weird sport in that you match your best against their best in order," Mar said. "The talk at the coaches meeting has been about structuring the league so there are two or three divisions. That would put all the teams heavy on club players in a high division. Then there'd be a medium division and lower division. You would base it off last season's records.
"It seems like the lower teams are really in support of that. Obviously, we would do really well if we were pitted against teams that had similar groups of players."
Until that happens, Mariner has to rely on its players elevating their game, much like the Marauders have done this season. The Mariner tennis players say this year is unlike any in the past, with the team having a strong bond both on and off the court.
"I think it's the bond with our team this year. Everyone knows each other. Everyone is really friendly," said senior co-captain Christina Han.
Tia Nguyen, a senior on the team this season, wasn't planning on playing this year. But when word broke out that she didn't think she was coming back to the team this year, the Marauders came after her and talked her into returning.
And Nguyen is glad she did.
"Of the four years I've been playing tennis this has been the best," Nguyen said. "At first I wasn't going to play for my senior year. I thought I lost touch with it. But just the fact that I can play for fun. My love for it came back. A lot of girls talked to me (about coming back). Actually, the whole team found out. I don't know how that happened. Even the coach, Mr. Mar, said, 'Hey, I heard about this. Why is this happening?'"
Cristal Rangel Pena, Han's No. 1 doubles partner, said she's really enjoyed her senior year on the team. The duo, who say they try to have a positive attitude on the court no matter what, plan to live together at the University of Washington next year where they hope to continue to play tennis together after high school.
"My partner and I, on every hit, we either say, 'Good job' or 'Nice try.' We're still supportive of one another," Rangel Pena said. "We're all friends."
Last year Rangel Pena and Han got to the divisional tournament but lost in the first round. Moniaga placed fourth at the district tournament. Everyone's hoping to improve their finish this season.
But, most of all, the Marauders players just want to continue to have fun.
"Right now, I think my goal is just to at least tie last year's record in districts," Moniaga said. "Of course, I want to do better. To place third against these great Wesco players would be great. They're just so tough to beat. But I've put in a lot of work and I'll try my best. I'm just really excited. Every year I just want to get better and better. And help out my teammates. I love them and that's what makes me motivated to get better.
"I'm proud of my teammates and I'm proud to represent Mariner. I'm looking forward to the end of this season, and next year's."
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