Photos by Gerardo Bolong
Anya Bonner won No. 1 girls singles for Mt. Rainier at Kentwood.

SLIDESHOW: Mt. Rainier topples at Kentwood

By Gerardo Bolong

COVINGTON - It was a May Day alert for the Mt. Rainier girls tennis team on Wednesday as it attempted to clinch the SPSL 4A regular season championship at second place Kentwood.

In long and grueling matches punctuated by 85 degree heat, the home standing Conquerors earned a 4-1 team win to tie the Rams for first place at 8-1 with one league match remaining. This was a reversal of results from Mt. Rainier's earlier 3-2 win in Des Moines.

"It was a tough match," said Ram head coach Tim Lee. "The girls played well and we came close to pulling it off. Last time, we got a doubles win. This time, we just didn't quite get it."

All five matches started at the same time with Kentwood's Megan Charlton and Michelle Batin stroking by the pairing of Kristina Stevanovic and Svetlana Avanesyan, 6-1, 6-1, in No.1 doubles.

Mt. rainier was situated on a slipper slope after Kathryn Araki and Christina Cheung defeated Alex Boyle and Karissa Pallagi, 6-3, 6-3, at No. 2 doubles.

With matches lasting two hours or more, the remaining match ups took a long time to complete due to the tight competitiveness involved.

Kentwood gained the team victory following a three-set match at No. 3 doubles with Audry Snider and Kayla Benson out dueling Zuhra Amini and Alessia Pepe. Kentwood's tandem won the first set at 6-0, but Mt. Rainier fought back to win the second set, 6-4. The decider went to the Conquerors, 6-2.

"We might have gotten a little tired in the third set," said Amini. "We tried to keep our coverage and keep moving. I was still happy about how we played because we did our best."

With the team win assured, Kentwood head coach Ingrid Bakke commented on the action.

"So far, winning the doubles was the key," she said. "Being aggressive and not just waiting for the other team to make a mistake was the difference."

The remaining singles matches went to the duration after nearly three hours of court coverage.

Victory No. 4 for Kentwood emerged in the No. 2 singles, pitting Conqueror Taryn Lang against Ram player Mariya Manuel. Lang captured the first set, 6-3, before the match turned into a give-and-take grinder. After reaching 6-6 in the second set, the players battled in a tie-breaker. No one was able to pull away as the combatants were in a 5-5 deadlock. Manuel held serve and broke serve to win the tie at 7-5. Instead of a full third set, the two played a super tie-breaker for all the marbles.Trailing 9-4, the Ram singles player closed within 10-9 before the Conqueror closed it out.

"I played my best," said Manuel. "It was just a tough match."
Nearly three hours elapse before Mt. Rainier's Anya Bonner was able to wrest the No. singles match away from Judith Nguyen-Duong. Holding a 5-2 first set lead, Bonner was challenged greatly and eventually tied at 5-5. Bonner then held serve ahead of a service break of Nguyen-Duong for the first set.

Duong came back to claim the third set, 7-5, to set up a final super tie-breaker. Bonner broke out to leads of 3-0 and 5-1, but Duong began to narrow the margin, drawing close at 6-4 and 7-5. It was Bonner's turn to rally, next. The MR No.1 broke serve and posted a hold of service to lead at 9-5. A short rally ensued on the next point as the KW athlete netted a forehand return for the curtain closer of the performance.

"It was so close," Bonner said. "It was a really good match and I just kept it up in the heat. It was nice to have everyone cheering for you."
Kentwood travels to Kent-Meridian and Mt. Rainier hosts Kentridge on May 6 to close out the regular season.

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