Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey girls tennis sophomore Mary Zisette returns a volley from her teammate at a recent practice on one South Whidbey High School’s tennis courts.

All roads lead to tough bi-district for girls tennis team

No matter how strong a season doubles team Bayley Gochanour and Mary Zisette may have this year, they know the road eventually leads to one of the toughest bi-district tournaments in the state.

The fact that the duo were the Falcons’ top doubles team and class 1A District 1 tournament champions in 2016 meant little when they were defeated 6-1, 6-2 by Overlake sophomores Amanda Lin and Bella Tsilas. Lin and Tsilas went on to place fourth, while another doubles team from their bi-district — Forrest Ridge’s Annie Hines and Christina Chai — won the 2016 1B/2B/1A girls state tennis championship.

It’s a tough bi-district, with the majority of opponents being private schools with players who have access to year-round tennis, and a difficult journey to state. And Gochanour and Zisette know it.

But, they feel that their preparation this off-season, which included traveling to Edmonds once a week to play through the winter, could make the difference. The pair will have also have a more focused attitude in practice and look to squeeze as much experience as they can out of the regular season.

“I think we both just need to have more match experience more than anything,” said Gochanour, a senior. “…I think just that little bit of extra work every day will make a difference.”

Gochanour and Zisette are the only returning starters from a 2016 Falcon team that finished 11-1 overall and 7-1 in the Cascade Conference, swept the district tournament and qualified six girls for the bi-district tournament. Gochanour predicts that the Falcons will not be quite as strong as they were last season with the loss of seniors Iona Rohan, Clara Martin, Macey Bishop and Anna Lynch. But, with that loss comes the addition of 15 new freshmen who Gochanour has observed as being eager to learn the intricacies of the sport.

“They’re super awesome and enthusiastic and just ready to learn new things, and it’s going to be a really good season for that reason,” Gochanour said. “It’s a really big team and sometimes that causes some complications with just playing time and courts. But, they’re just awesome and they’ve been along for the ride. I’m really excited to work with them.”

In the mix for the other varsity positions will be seniors Alex Foode, Taylor Hamilton, Sarah Hodson, junior Robynn Maciel and sophomores Ainsley Nelson and Fariss Jokinen, according to head coach Karyle Kramer.

Gochanour and Zisette didn’t view being eliminated from the bi-district tournament after two losses necessarily as a negative. That’s not hard to agree with considering how little playing experience Zisette had before the 2016 season.

“I mean Mary had never played a real tennis match until the season started, and then she was top on our team in the first two weeks, which is just crazy,” Gochanour said. “No one expected that. She was very new to it. For both of us to be paired together and do as well as we did was better than we expected. We’re very proud of what how we did and we’re happy with it.”

Zisette said she learned a great deal from last year and knows what to fix in her game this season. She’s also eager for another shot to advance to state.

“I’m just looking forward to playing with Bayley again and meeting all the new people and trying to get past where we were,” Zisette said.

Like most other spring teams this season, the Falcons’ time outdoors on the tennis courts has been hampered by rain. They said their focus during that time shifted to working on their strokes, footwork and conditioning.

The Falcons are currently 1-1 overall. South Whidbey defeated Coupeville 6-1 in its season opener on March 14, followed by a 4-1 loss to University Prep on March 17.