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Tornado off and running

Despite missing three of its top players, North girls storm to a 9-0 victory over rival South Medford

You can't get anywhere without first taking a step, and the North Medford and South Medford girls tennis teams each did so Thursday afternoon at Fichtner-Mainwaring Park.

While neither team is expected to take the same path this season, both laid a solid foundation toward their ultimate goal.

— Despite missing three of its top returners, North Medford, which has lofty state aspirations, used composed efforts under windy and cold conditions to score a 9-0 Southern Oregon Conference victory over the crosstown rival Panthers (1-1, 0-1 SOC).

This year we have a big chance of doing well at state again, said 23rd-year North Medford coach Dale Jensen, whose team placed fourth last year and first two years ago. I don't know if we can win (the team championship) because Jesuit's very strong, but I think we can do well.

The Black Tornado (1-0, 1-0) returns state doubles qualifiers Shannon Leever, Annie Chaney, Melissa Witten and McKenzie Hilmer, but only Hilmer took the court Thursday. And even that was in unusual circumstances as the sophomore was given the nod to play No. — singles, then went out and lived up to expectations by garnering a 6-0, 6-2 triumph over South junior Ashley Ingledew.

McKenzie did a great job today, said Jensen. She is a very steady girl. She has great strokes with two-hands on both sides, which is rare, and just hits a very clean ball.

Despite her singles success, Hilmer isn't ready to abandon doubles just yet.

I like doubles better, said Hilmer, who was on one of North's three state doubles squads last year. I like having a partner out there, and it's just more fun than singles. Singles is a lot more intense.

Hilmer provided considerable intensity in sweeping the first set, then had to adjust her game plan after Ingledew cut her second-set lead to 3-2 with several nice winners.

She started doing better so I had to move it up a notch, too, Hilmer said of her turnaround in claiming the next three games.

That same sentiment seemed to carry out on all four courts at Fichtner-Mainwaring, with South Medford's players providing stiff challenges but not enough winners to fend off the savvy Tornado.

I think that every girl on my team has a lot of potential and each experience such as this match can benefit them and be positive, said first-year South coach Colleen Cohee, who was a star player for the Panthers from 1995-98. I think most of the matches today were played really well. The girls just need to build their confidence, because that's a huge factor in tennis, and get comfortable on the court in competitive play.

Besides Hilmer, earning singles victories for North were Lauren Wilson, who is expected to team with Hilmer in the No. 2 doubles spot, Sonia Aguilera, Abby Stone and Chelsea Schoelein.

Scoring victories in doubles for the Tornado were Heather Dumas and Jennifer Pendergast, Valerie Iverson and Kelsey Thornton, Kami Hwang and Carleen Bullard and Janell Peterson and Rachel Ryan.

North only stands to get better in doubles with the return of Leever and Chaney, who finished as runner-up at last year's state tournament, and Witten.

Leever's return to the court has been slowed by a broken wrist, but she had her cast removed earlier Thursday and stands to return once her wrist regains its strength and flexibility.

We're going to have four strong doubles teams, said Jensen, whose lineup may not be settled for a few weeks. I'm just trying to get as many girls as possible to state. If we do that, then the districts will take care of itself.

Cohee said South's lineup is just as unsettled, but the Panthers' prime concern for the youthful squad is to make strides with every match in hopes that they can be major players in future district tournaments, leaving state thoughts out of the picture for now.

Jensen's convinced that goal could happen sooner than later should the Panthers follow their current program.

I hope Colleen can stay with them because she's got some great talent, he said. What South has been missing is the consistency with different coaches over the years. I know these (South) girls, they're great players and competitors, they just need the consistency. If Colleen can stay, they'll be strong.

SINGLES ' McKenzie Hilmer, NM, d. Ashley Ingledew, 6-0, 6-2; Lauren Wilson, NM, d. Nicole Hoyal, 6-1, 6-2; Sonia Aguilera, NM, d. Kendall Hess, 6-2, 6-2; Abby Stone, NM, d. Eli Drosdick, 6-2, 6-2; Chelsea Schoelein, NM, d. Dene Anderberg, 6-4, 6-2.

DOUBLES ' Heather Dumas-Jennifer Pendergast, NM, d. Emma Close-Kelly Rulon, 6-1, 6-1; Valerie Iverson-Kelsey Thornton, NM, d. Jenna Johnson-Annie McConnell, 6-0, 6-2; Kami Hwang-Carleen Bullard, NM, d. Sarah Wells-Kelli Murphy, 6-2, 6-0; Janell Peterson-Rachel Ryan, NM, d. April Olsen-Kaillen Amish, 6-0, 6-1.

North Medford?s McKenzie Hilmer looks to return a shot to South Medford?s Ashley Ingledew in Thursday?s SOC tennis match. Hilmer defeated Ingledew, 6-0, 6-2. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli