The Shorecrest girls tennis team is coming off a strong showing at last year’s Class 3A state tournament, with Kate Ivens and the doubles pair of Bella Saunders and Sophie Ivens each capturing a state medal.
With its standout trio of state placers returning and senior Anna Burke also in the fold, the Scots are looking to make plenty of noise again this postseason.
Shorecrest’s top four players are off to quite a start this spring, sporting a combined 22-2 record in a mix of singles and doubles matches. In total, they’ve won 45 of 50 sets.
“It has been a joy to work with these four girls and watch them grow as tennis players,” Scots coach Rob Mann said. “They have put forth much effort in the offseason to prepare for this year, and all of them returned at the beginning of the season playing high-quality tennis.
“Their focus and motivation during the season has led to their success, and I look forward to (hopefully) seeing them all compete at state.”
Saunders and Sophie, both seniors, aim to build on their success as a doubles pair last postseason, when they reached the 3A state doubles quarterfinals and earned a seventh-place state finish.
Saunders and Sophie have both been in the program since their freshman year, but didn’t begin competing together in doubles until last postseason. During this year’s regular-season slate, in preparation for what they hope will be a deep postseason run, the two seniors are mixing in some doubles competition along with their singles matches.
The senior duo is 4-0 as a doubles pair this spring, having comfortably won all eight sets.
“They are very good at communicating with one another, they know what they’re doing out on the court (and) what each person is responsible for, and they cover the court really well as a team,” Mann said. “They just jell perfectly together.
“They’re aggressive, they get to the net together and they can really just put a lot of pressure on their opponents,” he added. “… I think people are going to have a hard time beating those girls in the postseason.”
Saunders, a lefty with a powerful serve, has been part of a state-qualifying doubles team each of the past two seasons. She reached state two years ago with her cousin — then-senior Tessa Farnam — before returning to state last season with Sophie.
“She has a wicked serve,” Mann said. “The thing is powerful, and a lot of players have no idea (how) to deal with that.”
Saunders’ serving prowess is complemented by Sophie’s strong play at the net.
“Sophie has really good ground strokes and she’s just really good at the net,” Saunders said. “(She) can get almost everything back. It’s insane.”
Sophie’s first state appearance last season coincided with that of her younger sister, Kate, who placed eighth in the 3A state singles tournament last year as a freshman.
Sophie and Kate grew up playing tennis with each other and used to hit together at their local club at 5:30 a.m. before heading to middle school. Kate said their years of playing with each other — especially those early-morning workouts — helped forge a strong bond that made last year’s state experience particularly special.
“That was so fun,” Kate said. “Just sharing the experience — because it was (Sophie’s) first time going to state too — that was really exciting.”
Kate is 7-0 this spring as Shorecrest’s No. 1 singles player, having won all 14 sets. Kate has cruised to victory in the majority of her matches, but in her most recent competition, she rallied from a 4-1 second-set deficit to win the match and keep her unblemished record intact.
“She’s such a talented player,” Mann said. “She hits the ball with so much pace, and it makes a real challenge for her opponents.
“She has the most amazing ground strokes — both forehand and backhand side,” he added. “She’s a really smart player and knows how to beat her opponents. She finds weaknesses, attacks them and just plays really consistent.”
Kate has solely played singles this spring, but Mann said she may team with Burke to form a doubles pair for the postseason.
“It’s still to be determined, but that’s kind of where we’re leaning right now,” Mann said.
Burke is off to a 6-1 start as the Scots’ No. 2 singles player.
“She’s a strong player,” Mann said. “She has a really beautiful forehand approach shot that she’s really developed this year. And both her ground strokes — forehand and backhand — are really coming along. She’s definitely hitting the ball a lot harder than she has in the past. And when she’s focused and in there, she can compete with anybody.”
Add it all up, and Shorecrest appears well-positioned for more postseason success this spring.
“It’s been really great,” Kate said of the Scots’ play thus far. “… Our team’s been doing really well.”