The only time Averi Kitsch and Mackenzie Qualls might disagree with each other is when they’re asked how they got together on the tennis court.
“I chose her to be my partner,” Kitsch replied.
Barely were those words out of her mouth when Qualls piped up, “I chose her to be my partner.”
Regardless of who became whose partner – and at whose behest – the fact is that the two Jefferson High sophomores are quite the racket-wielding pair.
That pair which got into this year’s Class 4A state tournament through the back door, but plans to step through the front door next spring, using the fifth-place girls doubles medals they earned last Saturday to help open it.
Kitsch and Qualls pulled out two close matches last Friday at the Vancouver Tennis Center to earn a surprising spot in the semifinals, before finding the going considerably tougher against more seasoned competition on Saturday.
The Jefferson duo dropped a 6-1, 6-0 semifinal contest to West Central District runners-up Julia Galbraith and Nell Shonnard of Bellarmine Prep, then came up short against Wenatchee’s Tatiana Wood and Amy Scheumann in the match for third and fifth places, 6-2, 6-2.
“It has been an amazing ride this year,” Raiders coach Andrew Buchan said of his sophomore tandem. “When Kendall (Swynenburg) and Allie (Guerrero) decided they wanted to play together, I asked Mackenzie and Avery, ‘Do you want to play singles or doubles?’ They wanted to play doubles.
“I had a suspicion they could get into the semis.”
Technically, Kitsch and Qualls earned the state alternate’s spot on May 17 by taking seventh place in the district tournament that qualified its top six finishers for state. But three of those top six spots – first, third and fourth – were occupied by teams from Central Kitsap. State rules stipulate that schools can have only two entries in each event.
That meant the fourth-place team, as the lowest-placing of the three CK entries, bowed out, and the Jefferson girls moved up to No. 6. (That rule has been changed, and beginning next school year, the two-entry limit no longer applies.)
With their tickets to Vancouver punched, the Raider duo was dealt another unusual card on Friday. Rainy weather forced tournament officials to cut from 12 total courts to just the eight indoor courts. And to facilitate getting all 80 scheduled matches completed, split sets were to be decided by a super tiebreaker (first one to 10 points and ahead by two) in lieu of a full third set.
Kitsch and Qualls took advantage of that twice. They beat Woodinville’s Cammie Powers and Kelly Irwin in their opener, 6-4, 6-7 10-6, then rallied past Shorewood’s Mackenzie Bang and Lisa Hamman in the quarterfinals, 3-6, 6-4, 10-5.
The two play volleyball during the fall, and hang out together during the day. That removed some of the usual barriers toward becoming an effective tennis tandem.
“We talk all the time during school,” Kitsch said. “The (chemistry) was definitely there when we first started (playing together).”
Buchan doesn’t know for sure if they’ll team up again next spring. If they do, he didn’t sound as if he’d have any objections.
“Both of them are very confident individuals,” Buchan said. They don’t care who they play against. They like to play the best.”
Asked which is their favorite – tennis or volleyball – Kitsch and Qualls again delivered a two-pronged reply.
“Tennis,” Kitsch said without hesitation.
Added Qualls, “It is now.”
Tough times in Tri-Cities
Auburn sophomore Sandy Dennett was the only area player to win a match in the Class 3A state tournament at Kamiakin High School and the Tri-City Court Club in Kennewick last weekend.
Dennett dropped her opener to eventual champion Brittney Reed of Kamiakin, 6-0, 6-0, but came right back to oust Tammy Do of Evergreen, 6-0, 6-0. Dennett then was eliminated by Rachel Storz of Holy Names, 6-0, 6-1.
Auburn’s boys doubles team of Travis Hanley and Josh Jeter, the Trojans’ girls doubles tandem of Mariah Siemion and Peyton Prothero, and Auburn Riverside’s girls combo of Carly Holtgraves and Caroline Craft all went out in two matches, all of them straight-setters.