All-Jesuit final ends with Larner three-peat

Same time, same place next season?

One can only hope that around mid-May in 2014, when Bess Waldram's shoulder is 100 percent and Erin Larner is gunning for the OSAA record books, that the two Jesuit girls' tennis players can re-create the show they put on in the 6A girls' singles' championship on Saturday.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jesuit junior Erin Larner returns a volley against teammate freshman Bess Waldram in the 6A girls tennis championship at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.The two ferocious power hitters exchanged vicious haymakers and knockout attempts at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center, crushing balls one after the other across the net. Waldram — just a freshman — had a fair share of eyebrow-raising moments that gave observers a glimpse of her endless potential.

While Waldram's future is luminous, Larner's time is now, and the junior roared to her third straight singles' state championship, 6-2, 6-1. Larner's three-peat was the first since Jesuit's Erryn Weggenman who accomplished the feat from 1994-96.

Waldram beat Lincoln's Arianna Fardanesh-Larner's usual nemesis — 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the semis to set up the all-Jesuit final. Larner beat Lincoln's Cam Kincaid 6-3, 6-1 in the semis and didn't lose a game in the second round or quarterfinals. The standing-room-only crowd was out in full force, draped in green and gold in support of the two Crusaders. The atmosphere wasn't nearly as rowdy as most state championship gatherings, but Waldram and Larner filled the gym with thunderous thuds and screeching tennis shoes.

“It was different than the past two years when I played Lincoln girls in the finals," said Larner. "It was definitely quieter out there, but it was fun.

“Bess played well. I just kept trying to play my game and reminding myself 'one more shot, get it back, let's go'.”

Nursing a sore right rotator cuff that forced her to serve underhanded and avoid overhead smashes at the net, Waldram played at a distinct disadvantage against Larner. Rather than uncoil a full-fledged rip from the service line, Waldram whipped waist-high offerings that had a funky, low-level spin at her teammate. Occasionally, the knuckling serve was lucrative as Larner had to lurch and stab for the ball. At its optimum ratio, the top spin made the ball die in the air and quickly plummet to the TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jesuit freshman Bess Waldram reaches reaches for the ball against teammate junior Erin Larner in the 6A girls tennis championship at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.

“I was going to try my best, do the best I could against her," said Waldram. "She's obviously a really great player. It's always fun playing those girls who can really hit the ball. I played pretty well, hit some good shots.”

But, when the serve arrived in Larner's wheelhouse, the state champ showed no mercy, blistering cannonball endeavors into the back of the court. Larner said she reminded herself to stay positive, keep going and kept remembering the little things like shuffling her feet and following through on her hits.

“I had a game plan out there, and I think it definitely developed a little bit through the match,” said Larner. “Honestly, I was just trying to get another ball back and play my game. Those were the main points. It was a great match, just fun overall.”

Waldram exerted herself to reach the baseline's outer edges and pulled out a number of marvelous last-gasp attempts that showed off her range and accuracy in times of trouble. The freshman's hustle and all-around game compensated for the lack of a forceful serve.

“I tried to run down any ball she gave me,” said Waldram. "I tried to get back in the point with whatever I had. I thought I did a pretty good job of running down balls. I hit some really good shots out of the corners and felt like I did a good job of scrapping."

Waldram's heyday is clearly coming. She's a star on the rise, one of the next big things on the 6A girls' tennis scene, and once that bum right wing gets healthy, watch out. Fardanesh never could beat Larner, who next year will try to become the first four-time state champion since 1991. But if Waldram's fully healthy, she could be the one threat to Larner's four-peat attempt.

Could a rematch be in the works?

“I hope so. Erin is a great player, a great challenge,” said Waldram.

“You never know,” added Larner. "Tennis is so unpredictable, anything can happen. Bess is definitely a challenge, and I'm just excited to see what happens next year."

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