Jesuit girls look to build on regular season success

Familiarity, it's been said, breeds confidence.

So, while the Jesuit High School girls' tennis team knows the challenge that lies ahead in taking on Lincoln at the Metro League district tournament, which starts today (Thursday) and runs through Saturday at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center, the Crusaders are stoked to come up against their longtime rival. Sure, the Cardinals are the defending 6A state champions, but Jesuit head coach Kirsten Ruchaber feels she has the amount of talented players to go toe-to-toe. Darby Rosette and Sarah Murphy make up the Crusaders' doubles team, which is seeded second behind Lincoln's defending state champion pair. Katherine Benedict and Maddy Sandquist from the second-ranked doubles' team.

“It's a friendly rivalry, but it's all about taking them down and them wanting to take us down. We both like to compete, and we both want to win. Lincoln is our biggest threat,” said Ruchaber. “I want my kids to compete to the best of their ability, and if we do that, I think we'll be successful.”

Starting with two-time reigning district and state champion Erin Larner, who Ruchaber says can crush the ball when serving, put it away with force at the net or volley back and forth for as long as it takes to get a point, Jesuit is loaded both with individuals and doubles teams. Freshman Beff Waldram has burst onto the scene this year as a worthy complement to Larner's prominence, giving the Crusaders two studs to deploy against the Cardinals' top contenders. Like Larner, Waldram is patient enough to reciprocate a serve and keep points alive. Interestingly enough, Larner and Waldram could face each other in the singles' semi-finals on Saturday morning.

“Beff's been dynamite as a freshman,” said Ruchaber. “Both are mentally tough and have great all-around games at the baseline and at the net. They're almost mirror images of each other.”

Jesuit is riding high after winning the Metro League regular season title and hopes to convey that momentum over to the weekend in what's sure to be a preview of the 6A State Tennis Championships. Ruchaber even said it's a “mini state tournament” that tests her players and preps them for the big stage at the 6A State Tournament May 16-18 at Tualatin Hills and Portland Tennis Center.

The top four finishers advance to the state tournament. A lot of times, it's the luck of the (district) draw, but I think we'll fair well,” said Ruchaber. “Our first goal was to win regular season, and we accomplished it. Now we want to qualify two doubles teams and a handful of individuals.”

In Austin Nguyen's opinion, each of the boys' Metro League's No. 1 players is one of the top-10 players in the state, so each match carries an extra dosage of importance. Aloha's best male player says there are no cupcakes on the road to a state berth in the Metro League, only stiff entrants who play tennis year-round with means of playing beyond the high school level. The additions of Jesuit, who is shooting for its sixth straight team state championship, and Lincoln over the past decade have boosted the league to a new stratosphere with upstarts such as Sunset and Southridge toting standout individuals.

“I've seen the state tournament and a lot of guys who have been knocked out even in the second round in our district could've gone and beat a lot of the guys at state,” noted Nguyen. “We have a lot more competitive players in the Beaverton School District, people who go out of state for tournaments, and once they play each other, they want to get better even more. There are a lot of great coaches and clubs in the area, too.”

Nguyen feels if he can get a nice draw, a ticket to the 6A State Championships could be within reach. Each Metro rival the junior faces has improved this season and practiced continuously, Nguyen acknowledges. But, the lefty said his conditioning has improved after an early season injury, and that extra stamina, can help him stay upright in the sure-fire tight matches at the district tournament. First, Nguyen has to maneuver through the draw so he can get up a match with one of the top seeds. Then he has to stay focused, keep calm and execute the game plan he and head coach Kurt Linder lay out. Being a southpaw with a tad of extra top spin, certainly will aid Nguyen in his quest.

“I think it's a big advantage, not just the spin but the nature of the ball. Left-handed (balls) will spin in the opposite direction of a right-handed person. Everybody hates playing lefties, even lefties themselves,” said Nguyen with a laugh.

As a program, Aloha graduated 14 seniors from last year's team, but the Warriors have a slew of talented newcomers with upset potential. Evan Klein, the Warriors' fourth-ranked player, who is also playing on Aloha's top doubles' team, has already pulled off a couple of upheavals this year. Based on where he's placed in the bracket, Nguyen said Klein could give players like Southridge's Andy Nakajima a stern test. Sunset and Westview will field strong overall squads.

“Our district is unbelievably competitive, but it's a great team environment," Nguyen said. "There's a couple matches where guys are cramping out on the court, giving it every ounce they have.”

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