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Botts, Arthur ready to rekindle rivalry

SOC standouts could be best girls in state

They've been dueling on tennis courts for eight years.

At times, they shared a volatile relationship that boiled over with hard feelings as they took turns beating each other.

Now, their fierce rivalry has changed. Ashland High's Tami Botts and Jessyca Arthur of Klamath Union have become friends, doubles teammates in summer and traveling companions on the junior circuit.

Botts and Arthur -- generally acknowledged as the top two prep players in the state -- are club mates under the guidance of Rogue Valley Swim and Tennis Club head pro Cary Collins.

The girls hit baskets of tennis balls to each other several times a week at the club. And when they need a partner to drill against and push each other, they match up as Collins orchestrates, motivates and keeps the peace while both get better.

I told them when they both came to the club that they had to get along, says Collins. Three years ago, they didn't have the best feelings about each other because of the battles they have had in the past.

Botts, 17, a senior at Ashland High, has yet to win a state title. Last spring, Botts won the SOC singles crown, but Arthur defeated her in the state semifinals on the way to winning the Class 4A title.

Both girls admit they have been pushed by the other. The reward? Both have already signed letters of intent with powerhouse collegiate teams. Botts is headed for Louisiana State and Arthur is bound for William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

People don't understand how unique it is to have the state's two best girls players and two of the best in the country practicing together at the same facility, says Collins. They have already earned themselves free educations, and they will be playing in two of the best women's collegiate tennis environments in the nation.

When Botts gets to LSU and Arthur to William & Mary, their rivalry will be over.

The only way we could meet again could be in the NCAA tournament, says Arthur. We've already talked about that.

But before the Botts-Arthur rivalry ends, they still have four more meetings awaiting them during their senior seasons of high school tennis.

We will probably play at Klamath and at Ashland in dual matches, then at district, and hopefully in the state finals, says Arthur, a two-time state finalist. That would be the best way to end up.

Collins has tried to play down the rivalry between the two girls by emphasizing how they can push each other to improve.

They still push each other real hard, says Collins. It's good for them, but I keep an eye on it. When you watch them, you see great tennis.

Botts has made an amazing climb, according to Collins, to the No. 54 ranking in the nation among girls 18-and-under singles players. Arthur is ranked No. 76, but she's No. — in the Pacific Northwest, while Botts is No. 2.

I've made a jump up from No. 119 in the nation by beating some good players in some big tournaments since last summer, says Botts. I've been working hard, and I think it's going to show more this year.

I'd like to make up for past disappointments in high school tennis by winning a state championship. I believe this is my year.

Ashland girls coach Darren Osborne agrees.

Every year, Tami has improved, says Osborne. She wants the closing chapter of her high school career to be a state championship. She's worked very hard to put herself in position to do it.

She's looking forward to taking state. Winning district would be a sidelight to her.

Arthur will have a lot to say about that.

I've been playing basketball the last three months, and Tami may have moved ahead of me, says Arthur. But I love playing basketball. It brings me back to tennis fresh and ready to go.

I may be a little rusty early, but I'll come back fast. I'm feeling real good. Playing basketball put me in great shape.

Botts advanced to the quarterfinals of the state tournament three years ago. She was eliminated in the semifinals the last two years.

I'm focused and ready to do that I have to do, says Botts.

Botts, always the power player, says she's added finesse to her game.

Both girls have improved in areas they needed to focus on, says Collins. Tami has come up with more finesse shots she needed and Jessyca has added a lot of power to her game.

Klamath Union coach Dick Ledgerwood says few people know how much power Arthur has added to her game.

I try to play Jessyca once a week during the season, says Ledgerwood. I used to dominate her because of my power game. But now she's overpowering me.

Botts says her road to possible SOC singles and state titles will be tied to how well she can focus mentally on attacking the weaknesses of opponents, and how consistent she can be.

I think when it gets down to Jessyca and I, it will be who wants it more, says Botts. I know I have to go out and grind it out. I'm ready to do that.

SOC girls tennis preview

1998 predicted district place

Coaches poll:

1. Roseburg 30 2. Ashland 27 3. Klamath Union 24 4. North Medford 22 5. Grants Pass 21 6. South Medford 19 7. Mazama 7

1997 district placing

TEAM -- 1, Ashland; 2, Grants Pass; 3, North Medford; 4, Roseburg; 5, South Medford 21; 6, Klamath Union 16.

SINGLES (top four) -- 1, Tami Botts, Ashland; 2, Jessyca Arthur, Klamath Union; 3, Coleen Cohee, South Medford; 4, Amanda Wilson, Klamath Union.

DOUBLES (top four) -- 1, Andrea Smith-Melinda Johnson, Grants Pass; 2, Tara Sickler-Christina Hanson, Roseburg; 3, Ann Endrikat-Ali Mostue, North Medford; 4, Susanna Pierce-Christina Pierce, Grants Pass.

Returning district placers

ASHLAND -- Tami Botts. GRANTS PASS -- Andrea Smith. KLAMATH UNION -- Jessyca Arthur. ROSEBURG -- Christina Hanson. SOUTH MEDFORD -- Coleen Cohee

State qualifiers

The top team advances, along with the top four singles players and top four doubles teams.

Conference notes

NEW MENTOR -- Janet Stark, mother of former South Medford High boys star and current member of the ATP Tour Jonathan Stark, takes over as head head coach.

Stark's team is led by lettermen and doubles stars Colleen and Stephanie Cohee. The Cohees are both scheduled to play singles and doubles. Marian Close and Julia White Hoppe look like a strong doubles team for Stark.

NORTH RELOADS -- North Medford coach Dale Jensen has another deep team with major potential to challenge for the district title and individual championships. Leading the way for the Black Tornado is junior doubles and singles player Ali Mostue, and junior Christie Brawner, a junior who will also play singles and doubles. Senior Monica Hillmer will also add depth to Jensen's singles or doubles lineups. Other North players to watch are juniors Molly Pratt, Carrie Brown, Laura Trentman and Tanya Lunt and sophomore Emily Folsom.