Only a year ago, South Medford High girls tennis player Kelsey Bartlett was simply a promising face in the crowd when the Southwest Conference district tournament rolled around.
But things change after you turn a third-place district showing into a consolation championship at the Class 6A state tournament, as Bartlett did last year.
That change, however, has only been for the better as the Panthers sophomore embarks on her second run at the SWC girls tennis district tourney beginning today at Roseburg High. Semifinals and finals matches pick up Saturday, with the top four singles players and doubles teams advancing to state.
The SWC boys tennis district tournament is today and Saturday at North Medford High, with action beginning at 10 a.m.
"There's a little pressure going into it thinking I need to be on my 'A' game going into it because I'm the No. 2 seed and need to play good," Bartlett said Wednesday night, "but I just really need to go into it focused and relaxed and ready to play my game and kick some butt."
Bartlett is the highest local seed in either district tourney, with South Medford boys singles player Kylar Tosh seeded third and North Medford's boys doubles team of Ryan Hogan and Kyle Campbell seeded fourth.
South Eugene junior Wren Eustis is the defending district champion and No. 1 seed in girls singles. Eustis and Bartlett haven't squared off this season and each went undefeated in SWC play.
"Kelsey had a really good district last year and I expect her to have a really good district this year," said South Medford head coach Hal Borg. "I think her experience last year is going to pay big dividends in the postseason."
The 5-foot-6 standout has ramped up her efforts throughout the regular season and offseason to make an even bigger splash in her sophomore year, and so far the results have been favorable.
Bartlett's lone loss in singles this season has come against Ashland's Ashley Knecht, who placed third at last year's Class 5A state tournament, and she credits last year's run at state for making a difference on the court this time around. After dropping her first match at the state tourney, Bartlett moved to the consolation bracket and won three straight matches to cap her season on a positive note.
"That gave me a lot of self-confidence in my game overall because I know I can do it just by what happened last season," said Bartlett, who turns 16 on Monday. "I know that all the hard work paid off in the end and it really showed when I was up there (at state)."
From almost daily trips to the Rogue Valley Swim & Tennis Club to hone her skills on the court to workouts with a personal trainer, Bartlett has dedicated herself to the sport she considers her "main focus." Bartlett is also a standout setter in volleyball at South Medford.
"She's really dedicated herself beyond what I would expect of her," said Borg, who is also Bartlett's uncle. "She's doing a lot of things on her own and with trainers and other coaches to make her an exemplary player."
Bartlett credits a lot of the coaching she's received for her rise in the sport. Be it advice from Borg, RVSTC Director of Tennis Frank Inn, Jon Endrikat, Charles Longmire or Greg Finnegan, Bartlett said each have helped her through the ups and downs of tennis.
"All my coaches have had an influence on me this season and always been there for me and contributed to my success," she said. "They've really helped form me into the player I am."
That player is one with an ability to adjust to whatever style of play is needed, and one that isn't about to give in when the going gets tough.
"She's a perfectionist by nature," said Borg. "She doesn't like to make mistakes and, as a consequence, she works really, really hard to eliminate any weakness in her game. That's what makes here a really good singles player."
"She's also a tenacious kid," added the Panthers coach. "She doesn't like to lose, and if she gets down in a match she responds to coaching really well. She's also a smart kid so she's able to identify weaknesses in her opponent and able to attack those weaknesses."
In Bartlett's own analysis of her game, she considers herself to be a pretty well-rounded player but is always looking for an opening to get aggressive.
"It really depends on the situation you're in but whenever I have the opportunity," she said, "I look to go to the net and put the ball away."
Today, she'll be looking to see if she can secure another trip to the 6A state tournament, and hopefully have some company up in the Portland area next week.
"Once you get there at state it's phenomenal and really fun when you have teammates with you so hopefully that can happen again," said Bartlett. "I think we have some pretty good chances."
Bartlett's cousin, Abi Borg, advanced to the state tourney in doubles last year and will team with Andie DeVries to try to repeat that feat this week. Tosh is another returning state qualifier after placing third in singles last year, while Mitchell Steadman, who was fourth in singles at last year's district, is a late addition to South Medford's doubles groups and is joined by Ben Vaughn. Steadman and Vaughn have mostly played Nos. 2 and 3 singles, respectively, this season for the Panthers.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry