It's been said that the one good thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.
Marina Todd is challenging that theory these days as a member of the South Medford High girls tennis team.
Even though Todd has only been playing competitive tennis for about four years, the 15-year-old capably holds down the No. 1 singles spot for the undefeated Panthers.
The 5-foot-4 standout boasts a 5-1 record in singles entering Thursday's match at Ashland and, with the help of Sam and Natalie Ruffe in doubles and Elora Grant in singles, has South Medford riding high at 5-0.
Todd's play thus far, according to South coach Monica Wheeler, has been well beyond her years.
"For a freshman, typically they go in and don't have much of the mental game but she has a really good mental game," says Wheeler. "She's able to stay strong even when she gets down and figure out her opponent and what their weaknesses are and come back."
For Todd, who prefers to stay back on the baseline, it's all a matter of trying to remain patient on the court.
"I'm not very patient, but in tennis you kinda have to be," she says. "Patience is probably a big part of my game. Otherwise I try to put stuff away too soon and it's just a mess."
In spite of her slight frame, Todd packs quite a punch with her ground strokes and has a knack for placing shots in just the right spot.
"She's really good at waiting for the shot and not going for it too early," adds Wheeler. "And when she does go for it, she hits the ball really hard."
Although she's only played a handful of prep tournaments, Todd is ranked No. 34 in girls 16 singles in the USTA Pacific Northwest Champs standings. She's been at that level since she turned 14, and Todd says the experience of playing more experienced players has come in handy.
"I think that was a pretty good choice because now I'm playing these older, better girls and it'll improve my game a lot and quickly, too," says Todd, who has a 4-5 overall record in Pacific Northwest events. "The tournaments I've been playing, even though I haven't won, the progress I've made playing a particular person from one time to the next has been there. Even though you may not win today, that helps you know if you keep working hard, you're going to win eventually."
Her lone loss on the high school scene thus far has been to North Bend's Kelsey McKenna, who will be attending Arizona State University next fall on a full tennis scholarship.
It's that level of competition that has been the biggest challenge thus far for Todd, who was more accustomed to playing girls her own age prior to this past year.
"That's the scariest part, just knowing they're older and could be more experienced," Todd says of her opponents. "I try to block that out and just play my game."
And so far that plan has worked just fine.
Todd credits her dad Mike, her coach Frank Inn at the Rogue Valley Tennis Club and Wheeler for helping refine her game and give her the confidence to compete at such a high level despite her young age.
"It's a pretty good mix as far as coaching goes," says Todd, who also boasts a 4.0 grade-point average and has played piano since the second grade.
It was her dad's experience as a competitive tennis player in the Rogue Valley that got the wheel's turning for Todd, who primarily played soccer up until recently.
"He's a pretty good tennis player so I just wanted to start it up and see what I could do," she says.
It didn't take long until the game took hold on her heart. She has continued to play soccer, most recently as a member of South's JV team, but her days at center midfield may soon be coming to an end.
"I wanted to try tennis as a side thing, but it's now become my main sport," she says. "I like (soccer and tennis) both the same, but I just think more opportunities could be made if I worked harder at tennis than soccer."
And while earning a tennis scholarship is a long-term goal — as well as someday becoming a pediatrician — Todd is content to take it slowly as the Panthers' top singles player.
"I love my team," she says. "Everyone's really nice. It's a lot of pressure (playing No. 1 singles), but it's a good pressure. I'm motivated by it because I don't want to let my school down."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org