Skyview tennis coach Mark Ray tried everything he could to avoid saying that Brittany Ellingsen and Anna Romanovsky should not have won the Class 4A girls tennis doubles titles on Saturday.
But it was hard.
You see, most state champions don’t got into the postseason telling their friends that they might qualify for state.
Most state champions don’t advance to state by placing fifth in the bi-district tournament.
Most state champions don’t rally from a 5-1 deficit in the final set of the title match.
And most state championship doubles teams aren’t created by a car wreck.
No, Ellingsen and Romanovsky aren’t like most champions. But one thing is clear after their 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 win over Kentwood’s Tess Manthou and Eliana Spero at the Vancouver Tennis Center, Brittany Ellingsen and Anna Romanovsky are state champions.
“I never really thought about being state champions,” Romanovsky said. “Our goal all along was just to get to state.”
Ellingsen added: “Yeah, I guess that accident turned out to be lucky.”
Ellingsen opened this season with sights on a third consecutive district singles title. But an early season injury got her season off to a slow start, and minor injuries sustained as a passenger in an auto collision further compounded matters.
It was then that Ray offered the suggestion of playing doubles, theorizing that putting his two best singles players together would form a formiable doubles team.
“I’m just glad Anna decided to be my doubles partner,” Ellingsen said.
“I’m just glad you decided to play doubles,” Romanovsky responsed.
The pairing led to a district title. But a loss in the quarterfinals of the bi-district tournament to Manthou and Spero forced the Skyview seniors to scramble through the consolation bracket and reach state as the fifth-place team.
“We were looking to get a chance to play them again,” Ellingsen said of Manthou of Spero. “But we weren’t thinking that it would be for the state title.”
After two wins Friday, Ellingsen and Spero got that shot with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 win over Tahoma’s Sierra Southworth and Maddie Turek in the semifinals.
Avenging that earlier loss seemed within reach after Ellingsen and Romanovsky won the first set 6-1 and took a 4-1 lead in the second. But victory would not come that easily.
“(Manthou and Spero) played like champions,” Ray said. “Brittany and Anna left an opening, and they seized upon it, like good doubles teams do.”
After Manthou and Spero won the second set in a tiebreaker, they used that momentum to seize a 5-1 in the final set and were serving for the title.
As they passed each other, Romanovsky and Ellingsen slapped hands, as they did after every point.
But this time when Romanovsky barked “Come on!” a frustrated Ellingsen could only manage a shrug.
At that, Romanovsky stopped and stared back at Ellingsen until she made eye contact with her partner and said something to the effect of “No, really, come on!”
Was Romanovsky acting as Ellingsen’s personal on-court psychologist?
“Yeah, she was,” Ellingsen said.
Romanovsky said: “Yeah, but last week at regionals, it was the exact opposite. That’s one thing that we’ve always been good at — supporting each other and picking each other up.”
The Skyview pair broke serve to stay alive, then held serve, broke and held again to even the set at 5-5.
When the Kentwood pair took a 6-5 lead, the Storm rallied back again to force a tiebreaker.
The tiebreaker was knotted a 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6, when Skyview took a 7-6 lead. After Romanovsky’s serve led to a flurry of volleys at the net, finally a Kentwood shot hit the net tape and rolled back onto the Kentwood side of court.
With that, Ellingsen and Romanovsky collapsed to the court — part celebration, part exhaustion.
Adding to the elation of the doubles victory — the first state title in program history — was the fact that it helped Skyview finish program-best second in the team standings.
Ray said the decision by Ellingsen and Romanovsky to put the team ahead of any personal goals set this improbable story in motion.
“Some tennis coaches get lucky and have a talented player fall in their laps and win championships,” Ray said. “But this is more satifsfying to me because it was a product of the program. It was organic.”