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Martinez: Unique state double awaits River’s Benner and Harris

High school sports

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: May 24, 2023, 5:59am

This weekend is without a doubt the craziest weekend in the high school sports calendar.

In the fall season, state championship events are spread out over a month, from the first weekend in November with cross country to the first weekend in December for football.

Similarly, the winter sports events are spread from the first weekend in February (girls bowling) to the first weekend in March (basketball).

But in the spring, everything wraps up in the same week — this week. It starts Tuesday and Wednesday with golf, and finishes this weekend for baseball, softball, boys soccer, track and field and tennis.

And sometimes that schedule can lead to conflict and tough choices for fans, family, school administrators and the media.

But that’s nothing compared to the conflict it caused Cole Benner and Alex Harris.

Benner and Harris are senior captains for the Columbia River boys soccer team. Last Saturday, the undefeated Rapids secured their second straight trip to the 2A state semifinals with a 3-0 win over East Valley of Yakima. The semifinals and finals are Friday and Saturday.

However, in the fall, Benner and Harris play tennis for Columbia River, and they qualified for state as doubles partners by placing at the district tournament.

The state tennis tournament is also Friday and Saturday.

And Benner and Harris are planning on playing in two different state championships this weekend.

“They are going to be very busy on Friday,” Columbia River tennis coach Jim Sevall said.

Officially, tennis is considered a spring sport by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. However, the WIAA does allow leagues and districts to play boys tennis in the fall.

This is permitted to alleviate the scheduling crunch on available tennis courts. There are barely enough available courts to accommodate girls tennis players here in Southwest Washington.

To play both girls tennis and boys tennis in the same season would be nearly impossible.

In other parts of the state, boys and girls tennis are both played in the spring. But in Southwest Washington, boys tennis plays its regular season and district tournaments in the fall.

Then those players who qualify for state must wait six months to play in the state tournament. And that can create a conflict for multi-sport athletes.

Fortunately for Benner and Harris, time, geography and even the weather are working in their favor this spring.

The 2A state tennis tournament will be held at the Nordstrom Tennis Center at the University of Washington in Seattle. The state soccer finals will be played at Renton Memorial Stadium in Renton, roughly 25 miles to the south.

The Benner/Harris doubles match will be one of the first on the court at the Nordstrom Tennis Center at 8 a.m. Friday. Their second match will take place likely around noon or in the early afternoon.

River’s state soccer semifinal against Sehome of Bellingham is slated for 7 p.m. Friday in Renton. So that should leave plenty of time between tennis and soccer, even given Friday traffic in Seattle.

Now if rain is in the forecast for Saturday, Benner and Harris could possibly be required to play a third tennis match. That match likely would not happen until late afternoon on Friday, leading to a potential conflict with soccer.

However, the forecast for Saturday currently calls for cloudy skies and a high around 70 degrees. If that forecast holds, the potential third match for Benner and Harris won’t happen until Saturday morning.

If River soccer loses Friday, the Rapids would play a third-place game in Renton at 1:15 p.m. That could potentially cause some schedule conflicts with soccer.

However, if the Rapids win Friday, the championship game is 6 p.m. Saturday, which would leave all day for tennis.

But Benner and Harris will take things one step at a time.

It is certainly an unusual situation, but not unprecedented.

Columbia River athletic director Jennifer Johnson had a similar situation come up when she coached the Skyview boys soccer team in 2012.

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“Ironically, when I was coaching, two of my boys soccer players were doubles partners for tennis and had to rush to leave their tennis match to play in the semifinals for soccer,” Johnson said. “It was tight, but it turned out all right for us. (We) took home the state championship that year.”

The Rapids are hoping history repeats itself this weekend up north.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com or follow @360TMart on Twitter and Instagram.