Prairie's tennis-playing sisters leave love to the scoreboard

Off the court, Baba sisters are supportive, but during a match ...

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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Shiori Baba and younger sister Akari rarely square off on the tennis court.

Through club tennis, practice, and now at Prairie High School, they try to avoid the conflict. They are much better off as teammates, supporting one another in each other’s singles competitions. Or better yet, as a doubles pair.

Still, there are times when they are on opposite ends of the net.

“There’s no love in tennis,” Shiori said.

“Definitely no love on the court,” Akari added.

The two ended up facing each other in the finals of the Thunder Invitational a couple weekends ago, with Akari winning 6-0, 6-1.

It is possible they could meet again in the postseason. Prairie coach Chris Lindquist has not decided if the Babas will play singles or combine talents as a doubles team.

“It’s a fun challenge to have,” Lindquist said.

While that is being determined, Shiori and Akari are enjoying this one season together as high school teammates. Akari, the more established player, is a freshman. Shiori, one of the leaders of the team, is a senior.

“As teammates, we’re sisters,” Akari said.

“We get along well. We’re like this,” Shiori said, fingers crossed.

They will do whatever the coach decides is best for the team, but they know what is best for the family.

“When we play doubles, we usually talk Japanese,” Shiori said. “It’s more fun that way instead of plain English.”

But it is not so much fun when they go against each other in singles.

“Older sister has her pride and the younger one is saying, ‘I have to beat this one,’ ” Shiori said. “It’s difficult for me. Since I’m the older sister, I have this urge to be better than Akari. I know in my heart she is better than me skill-wise. It’s hard for me to accept the fact she is better.”

This is where the personality differences come into play. It never escapes Shiori’s mind when she is playing her sister; for Akari, though, competition trumps blood.

“I just don’t think of her as a sister when we’re on the court,” Akari said. “It’s not as difficult for me. She’s not family, she’s someone else. She has the pride of wanting to beat me. But I’m like, ‘She isn’t going to beat me.’ ”

Shiori has played tennis for years, but mostly “just for fun.” She did not get competitive until her freshman year. Akari, though, became serious about the game when she was 10 years old.

A year ago, Shiori finished second in the Class 3A district tournament.

Returning for her senior year, she had to be one of the contenders for a title, but now her sister also is vying for supremacy.

Shiori and Akari, who support each other in just about every way imaginable, find themselves arguing over sister-vs.-sister tennis.

That’s why they steer clear of one-on-one competitions. They have faced each other six or seven times through club practice, high school challenge matches, and the Thunder Invite.

“I’ve beaten her once or twice,” Shiori said.

“Once,” Akari replied.

“Twice.”

“Officially, once.”

“Twice.”

You get the idea.

Making things more difficult is the fact that high school tennis players must judge for themselves.

“Her line calls are really close,” Shiori said.

“But they’re always true,” Akari said.

“Not always,” Shiori said.

This could be the story of an intense rivalry. But one-on-one tennis is about the only thing that gets on their nerves.

They share their clothes. They enjoy cooking together. They help each other with their homework.

Akari is more into art. Shiori is an expert in math.

Both are exceptional students, too.

Akari’s goal is to be class valedictorian. Shiori is planning on attending the University of Washington in the fall to study biochemistry and possibly go to medical school.

While Shiori has taken advanced placement classes, she also could have taken on more of a school workload.

But she chose to enjoy the high school experience. Akari said that after watching Shiori thrive with all that is associated with high school life, she wants to travel the same path.

Lindquist said: “Shiori is excited to have her sister on the team. It’s nice there is only a three-year gap so they can share high school athletics together.”

They are sisters. They are Prairie Falcons. They are tennis players.

They just would prefer to compete against others, not against themselves.

Sounds like a great plan in life, too.