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Nothing but net gains

Annie Chaney is still pursuing an NCAA Division I tennis program to compete at, but for now she's a big reason SOU is off to an 8-1 start. / Jim Craven — — — Former North Medford tennis state champion is starring for SOU after original plans fell through at Portland State

One school's misfortune paid immediate, albeit most likely temporary, dividends for another.

When North Medford High tennis star Annie Chaney's original collegiate plans washed out last spring, Southern Oregon University coach Gail Patton was more than happy to bring the state champion aboard.

The tennis connection between the two has sparked an 8-1 start for the team and a 9-1 singles and 6-1 doubles record for Chaney heading into Friday's match at Dominican College.

I've watched Annie grow since she was in elementary school, says Patton, who coached Chaney in a juniors program at the Southern Oregon Tennis Club several years ago. I watched her blossom into a high school tennis star.

She's very talented and works very hard at it.

— It didn't take Chaney long to get acclimated to the college game. She's run roughshod through the competition to this point with an eight-match singles winning streak and has taken the majority of her matches in straight sets.

The level (of play) is higher, says Chaney, comparing collegiate competition to high school. But it's not as challenging as I first thought it would be.

Some of the girls are hitting these loopy balls at me, and it's been kind of tough to adjust to that. I've had to learn to be patient.

Patton, after watching Chaney continually improve at the junior level up through high school, wasn't surprised how fast her No. — competitor adjusted to the new competition.

She's played in lots of tournaments throughout the Pacific Northwest against a very high level of competition, so I wasn't surprised at all at how she's performed, says Patton, in her sixth year coaching SOU. Annie's been a very solid player for most of her tennis career.

Chaney originally hoped to attend school and play tennis for Portland State University. But while she was in the midst of teaming with Shannon Leever to win the Class 4A doubles title last spring, the Vikings announced they would drop the tennis program.

Undeterred, Chaney went to Plan B and Patton welcomed her with open arms.

I said 'Hey if something doesn't work out, we'd love to have you here,' says Patton. I also told Annie that I know one of her goals is to play at a Division I school, and I said I could help her with that.

We may have her for only one year. Hopefully it's been good for her.

The unexpected twist that brought Chaney to the doorstep of an NAIA school may turn out to be a blessing for the all-state performer.

Chaney's style, as dominating as it has been at the small-school level, needs some expansion.

The 19-year-old prefers to out-slug opponents and is considered a power player, according to Patton.

She hits a very flat, very hard tennis ball, says the coach. It comes with so much pace that a lot of players can't handle it.

She doesn't want to go to the net. Right now, we're trying to make her an all-court player.

The change-of-pace type of foe hasn't effected Chaney's approach so far ' sans her lone defeat to Linfield's Nicole Ralston in February ' but Patton warns of the more diverse opponents waiting at the Division I level.

She likes to be hitting against people that are hard hitters, says Patton. Sometimes she has to change things up. There are times where she's changed up and added more spin to her shot. She's got the skills, it's just a matter of believing that that's something she can do in a match.

Chaney seconds the notion that SOU was the right move that could hopefully catapult her career to the Division I ranks.

I'm having fun, says Chaney, who recently moved into a dorm with doubles partner Danielle Farber. I think things happen for a reason. I'm going to enjoy myself while I'm here.

Chaney has sent video highlight tapes to several schools on the West Coast and recently received a letter of interest from Loyola Marymount.

Hopefully, I'll find out soon, says Chaney of her school-hunting quest. Gail understands. She knows that I'd like to play against the best competition.

Patton remains supportive.

As much as I'd miss having her, says Patton. I'd also like to have her get an opportunity to play at a bigger school. I think she's worked hard to earn it.

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Annie Chaney is still pursuing an NCAA Division I tennis program to compete at, but for now she?s a big reason SOU is off to an 8-1 start. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune images