When he was putting together his initial football staff at North Medford High, Mike Mitchell put a particularly different spin on his...
Riley Finnegan isn't ready to hand over her racket to the Rogue Valley's next wave of tennis talent.
The South Medford senior will, however, need the help of a freshman to perpetuate her career.
The doubles partners, along with several other Rogue Valley players, will participate in the opening rounds of state tournaments around the state today. Finnegan stands as the minority of the group as a senior — eleven area underclassmen cracked into brackets, including six sophomores at Ashland, three freshmen and a sophomore at South Medford and one freshman at Cascade Christian.
"We are really trying to build something at South and it seems to me that it is really starting to catch on," says Hal Borg, South Medford's boys and girls head coach.
Finnegan and Abi Borg, who own a first-round bye, will play the winner of a match between St. Mary's Academy's Sierra Lemon and Sophie Peel and Lake Oswego's Celia Moore and Claire Murphy in the Class 6A state tournament at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.
Finnegan has participated in varsity tennis for three years, but skipped her junior season to focus on track. She competed in both this spring, running the 1,500 one day and feeling her way back into a sport she'd been absent from since her sophomore year the next.
"I figured that it's my senior year," says Finnegan, a 4.0 valedictorian who takes classes at both South Medford and North Medford, where AP Calculus 2 and Astronomy are offered. "Might as well give it a chance."
Finnegan and Abi have steadily improved together, coach Borg says. The two barely knew each other at first and didn't become partners until around the second week of the regular season.
The pair clinched a state berth after prevailing in a couple of grueling opening-day matches at the Southwest Conference District tournament earlier this month. The Panthers who advanced didn't win any semifinal matches at districts and finished third as a team. The improvement was still a notable one after a less-than-scintillating season: the girls were 3-4-2 in duals and the boys 3-5-1.
"Early in the season (Finnegan) was rusty because she hadn't played in a year and a half," coach Borg says. "Two weeks before districts, she and Abi started to gel. They didn't know each other. Riley's skills started to come back as she got more practice time in and even though they didn't have big wins they were getting better each week. They really peaked at the district tourney."
The duo has worked on learning more about each other since. On Monday, they visited a local coffeehouse to chat.
"I learned she plays the guitar and drums and is very musical," Finnegan says of Abi.
Now the 18-year-old Finnegan's tennis career is coming to a close. Abi hopes to help her leave on a high note as they both enter uncharted territory.
"It's been a lot of fun playing with her," says Abi, a 15-year-old who has played tennis since she was in the fourth grade. "I just hope we go out there and I'll try to do my best and I hope she had a great season. ... She is very outgoing and I am more of the quiet one. Put that together and she helps a lot."
Finnegan will run cross county and track for Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, next year.
In other 6A action today, South sophomore Mitch Steadman will face Centennial junior Justin Thammabanvong in the first round at Portland Tennis Center. The winner will get defending state champion Goutham Sundaram, a junior at Lincoln.
South freshman Kylar Tosh will play Sprague junior Corbin Coursey.
Grants Pass senior doubles partners Robby Hobbs and Zach Williams will take on Sprague's Ryan Boss and Griffin Fraser.
On the girls side, South freshman Kelsey Bartlett will face Lake Oswego freshman Katie Day in the first round. The winner gets defending champion Erin Larner, a junior at Jesuit.
Grants Pass freshman doubles partners Abi Johnson and McKenna Stephenson will play West Salem's Leanne Moore and Becca Papendieck.
The SWC's young players are represented particularly well in the girls doubles bracket, where all four freshmen hail from the league (Borg, Johnson, Stephenson and South Eugene's Hannah Nute).
"You are seeing a youth movement in junior tennis where underclassmen are starting to have a big impact on the state tourney," says coach Borg, whose son Tanner won three straight state doubles titles.
In other matches featuring local players Thursday, Ashland's defending state champion doubles team of junior Hanna Greenberg and sophomore Vika O'Brien are top-seeded with a first-round bye. They'll face the winner of a match between Sherwood's Lydia Ng and Bryce Keicher and Cleveland's Madison Cole and Richelle Mockler-Martens at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.
Grizzly doubles partners Karly Barnhard (sophomore) and Elana Cooper (senior) will go up against West Albany's Lindsay Pautsch and Ellie Cale in the first round.
In singles action, Ashland sophomore Anne Kim will play Sherwood freshman Allison Schwarm and sophomore Ashley Knecht will face Roosevelt junior Zoe MacWilliamson in the first round.
Also for Ashland, sophomore Grant Kahn will take on Liberty senior Michael Jensen in the second round and sophomore Mischa Kirby will play Cleveland sophomore Sebastion Dibblee in the opening round at Portland Tennis Center.
Doubles partners Max Burt and Michael Montes, both juniors, will face Sherwood senior Colton Baker and Alec Wistoff in the second round.
In 4A/3A/2A/1A action, Cascade Christian senior Troy Thompson and freshman Chad Morse will take on Cascade's Truman Clark and Jordan Farr in doubles.
Finals in all classifications are Saturday.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org