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Undefeated Auburn Riverside doubles teams spell trouble for foes | Prep tennis
On Wednesday the Auburn Riverside girls tennis team wrapped up its regular season with a team victory over Federal Way.
For the Ravens' No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams – with senior Sydnie LaValley and junior Carson Heilborn at No. 1, and juniors Lindsey Sanborn and Jessica Fullford at No. 2 – the win marked the end of an unbeaten romp through the South Puget Sound League Central 4A division, each with 8-0 records.
"We knew coming in that they were going to be two good doubles teams," said Auburn Riverside assistant coach Alex Barnes. "I'm very confident that these two teams will be in the district tournament in a couple weeks."
Not a bad showing for four girls whose main sports aren't even tennis.
Heilborn said she's played tennis with her family for fun throughout her life, but she, and LaValley and Sanborn, are all standout club and prep volleyball players.
For Fullford, it's soccer.
"I actually hadn't touched a tennis racket and just showed up my freshman year and decided to play," LaValley said. "I wanted to cross train for volleyball, to stay in shape and just for fun. I heard that the program was really good. I knew Coach [Bruce] Diehl, and he convinced me to turn out for the team."
Sanborn said she got started on the court the summer before her freshman year after her best friend, Heilborn, talked her into it.
"I just stuck with it because I just loved it so much," she said. "For volleyball, it's a great crossover sport. A lot of the footwork is the same."
For Fullford, her turnout came at the urging of her mother.
"My mom said I should play tennis, and I said okay," she said. "I just wanted to try something new and didn't want to play water polo."
None of the four players found learning curve steep. And all four credit the guidance of Auburn Riverside's coaching staff, including head coach Diehl.
"Tennis is a very easy sport," Sanborn said. "It takes hand-eye coordination and knowing where to put the racket and where your feet are, but it's not that hard. And Coach Diehl is just a great coach. I give all the credit to him. It's easy to learn from him."
"We have a really good coaching staff, so it was really easy," LaValley said.
"It's a lot like volleyball, like the arm swings," Heilborn added. "So it's a lot like volleyball, except mentally. There it's completely different because you make so many more individual mistakes than in volleyball. It's hard. You just have to look to your partner and say, 'let's get the next one.'"
Last season Heilborn played No. 1 doubles with partner Brenna Bruil and earned a berth at the West Central District III 4A meet, while LaValley teamed up at No. 2 with Sanborn.
This season, Heilborn and LaValley decided to team up.
"This is our 10th season playing a sport together, between volleyball and tennis," LaValley said. "We mesh really well together. And we were both voted captains for volleyball and tennis last year, so it made sense for us to come together. I was just below her on the ladder, so I just stepped in and took over Brenna's spot."
The duo's chemistry on the court has been obvious, borne out by their undefeated record.
LaValley said the secret is how the pair complement each other.
"Carson's definitely quiet, and I'm more talkative," LaValley said. "What I lack in skill I make up for in communication. I would say she's a more skilled tennis player than I am. But I'm more talkative. So we complement and hold each accountable in all respects. It works really well for us."
"We both like being aggressive and getting to the net, that's our signature," Heilborn said. "I don't think either of us backs down to a challenge."
Barnes agreed, adding that all four girls are fearless on the court.
"They're all very aggressive and they show zero fear, no matter who they are going up against," Barnes said.
For Sanborn and Fullford, the partnership began right before the spring tennis season began.
"Lindsay sat next to me in first period and said 'you have to be my partner,'" Fullford said. "I told her that I didn't know and that I wanted to play singles."
"I was set on Jessica being my partner," Sanborn said. "We kind of planned it out."
"And it worked out good for us this year," Fullford added.
Like Heilborn and LaValley, Sanborn and Fullford said the key is the way their skills complement each other.
"Our skills complement each other really well," Sanborn said. "Jessica is good at ground strokes."
"I'm good at staying at the baseline and lobbing," Fullford said. "And Lindsay smashes everything."
Despite their obvious chemistry, both girls said they had no idea what to expect of the 2014 campaign.
"I was so nervous coming into this season," Fullford said.
"I get nervous for every game," Sanborn said. "We didn't expect this [undefeated], but we came into every match with the intention to win."
Now, with the SPSL 4A tourney on tap for this weekend, the two are busy preparing for their first postseason tourney as a duo.
"We're excited for the opportunity," Sanborn said. "It will be a great learning experience."
"This will be my first experience at this level," Fullford said. "But we're just focusing on the SPSL tournament first. We always take it one match at a time."
For Heilborn and LaValley, it all comes down to making the big dance.
"We want to make it to state," Heilborn said.
The South Puget Sound League 4A subdistrict tournament begins Friday at Auburn Riverside High School.