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Hoping for hardware

West Valley regional tennis champions, Anh Phan, left, and Dru Sanchez, have played together throughout their high school careers, but never played club tennis. They’re headed to state for the third straight year. (J. Bart Rayniak)
West Valley regional tennis champions, Anh Phan, left, and Dru Sanchez, have played together throughout their high school careers, but never played club tennis. They’re headed to state for the third straight year. (J. Bart Rayniak)

In third trip to state, Eagles look to win

In the world of high school tennis, Ahn Phan and Dru Sanchez are old school.

And they like it that way, thank you very much.

The West Valley seniors are at the University of Washington this weekend, vying for the state Class 2A girls doubles championships at the Nordstrom Tennis Center. It is their third trip to the state tournament and, as the No. 1 seeds from the Great Northern League, perhaps their best shot at adding a state tennis trophy to the school’s awards case.

“We want to bring back some hardware,” Sanchez smiled. “I like our draw and I think we can place.”

The usual state tennis tournament contestant is a serious, full-time tennis player. The high school season is just a small portion of their tennis year. They play junior tennis through the United States Tennis Association. Many belong to a racquet club or country club, attend summer camps or have personal coaches.

Phan and Sanchez are different.

“I turned out for middle school tennis because the only other sport for girls at that level was track and I didn’t want to run that much,” Sanchez laughed. “I fell in love with tennis. Now it’s my favorite part of the year.”

“It was the same for me,” Phan added. “My other friend played tennis and I turned out to play with her. We played some doubles and Dru was playing singles. I’m like Dru – I fell in love with tennis.”

The Eagle pair don’t play much tennis outside of high school.

“They may hit together once in a while or something like that,” coach Clay Nelson said. “It’s rare to find a high school team this good that doesn’t play club tennis somewhere.”

Putting the pair together took some vision and imagination. When the pair arrived at West Valley, an assistant coach took a look at them and decided they should be doubles partners.

“I’m not sure what my assistant saw in them, but she saw something and thought they would make a good doubles team and she was so right about that,” Nelson said.

“They have such great chemistry together,” Nelson said. “They’re both exceptionally smart as players and incredibly smart off the court as well. Ahn is a school valedictorian and Dru is right up near the top of the class, too.”

Court smarts are a big part of the pair’s combined game. It’s what’s allowed them to qualify for state as a No. 1 seed the past two seasons, overcoming a pair of high-powered doubles teams from Clarkston.

“Clarkston’s players aren’t country club types, but they do all play over at (Lewis-Clark State College) and get extra coaching, so they’re very tough,” Nelson explained. “The last two years Ahn and Dru have lost to them during the regular season. But the found a way to beat them to get the top seed to state. It’s pretty incredible.”

And they found the way pretty much on their own.

“It hasn’t been my coaching, that’s for sure,” Nelson laughs. “I’ll watch them play and call a time out to go out and talk to them. I’ll tell them what I see and they’ll be like ‘Yes, and?’ They’ll have figured it out on their own and are already on to the next problem.”

Figuring out how to win at state is the next step.

“It was pretty interesting the first time we went to state,” Phan said. “We had never seen anything like the Nordstrom Center. We had never played tennis with stands around the court like a stadium. We had never played tennis on an indoor court. It took some getting used to, sure.”

For Phan and Sanchez, tennis couture runs more to T-shirts of their own design.

“We do like to come up with our own T-shirts,” they laughed, in unison.

“Last year we made up a T-shirt that read ‘I’d Rather Score Than Be In Love,’ Sanchez explained. “We had to make sure there weren’t going to be any problems with them so we checked with a few teachers beforehand. We wore them last year.

“We had one made that read ‘I’d Hit That All Day Every Day.’ ”

This year’s T-shirt celebrates their own culture.

“I’m Native American and Ahn is Vietnamese,” explained Sanchez, referring to her Nez Perce roots. “On the front of my shirt it reads ‘Got Frybread.’ On the back it has my name: Dru ‘I Eat Frybread’ Sanchez.”

“On mine it says ‘Got Rice’ on the front and Ahn ‘I Eat Rice’ Phan on the back,” her partner explained.

Nelson said he’ll miss the team’s sense of humor.

“When the photographer came over to take their picture, he commented on their multi-cultural make-up,” he said. “They said ‘We’re not multi-cultural. We’re exotic.”

More than that, they’re exceptional.

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