Since the two exchanged hugs on center court at the 2013 girls’ singles state championships last May, Jesuit’s Erin Larner and Bess Waldram have seemingly been on a collision course to renew their budding rivalry again in 2014.

The two top singles’ players in 6A went at it in an entertaining, feisty state title match last year that Larner — a junior at the time — came out on top of, 6-2, 6-1 for her third straight individual title. Hampered by a sore right rotator cuff, Waldram was forced to serve underhand to the two-time state champ, which put her at a clear disadvantage when it came to teeing off from the backline.

Had Waldram been healthy, who knows what could’ve happened. The at-the-time freshman showed no fear on the state stage, exerting herself to reach the baseline’s outer edges, and pulled out a number of marvelous last-gasp attempts that showed off her range and accuracy in times of trouble. Her power was a problem for Larner, who at times looked frustrated with the rallies.

Thankfully, for tennis fans around the state, Waldram is back to 100 percent, and ready to challenge Larner’s long reign at the top of the 6A hierarchy this spring. Both Crusaders are long, compelling power hitters, who are adept at coming to the net and playing coy shots with slight-of-hand flicks of the racket.

They’re the best of the best, and barring injury or unforeseen setback, the prohibitive favorites to thunder back to the state championship match.

“Our practices are very competitive,” said head coach Kirsten Ruchaber. “But, they help each other out, and work as a team. I think they know the balance of, ‘Yes, we’re teammates, but when the end of the season comes, we’re going to be competing against each other.’ That’s how tennis is in the Northwest. Everybody knows everybody and the girls play each other all the time.

“Because they’re such big competitors, they know when to turn it off and on,” continued Ruchaber. “They know when it’s showtime. They’re going to be mentally tough and turn it on. They know how to compete really well.”

Senior Darby Rosette reached the doubles state title match with 2013 graduate Sara Murphy last season, but has a suitable, skilled replacement in senior Meghana Rao. Last year, Rao— whose sister was a former doubles’ state champ — was slated to play with Rosette during districts and state. But, Rao was one of 30 students who had the honor of presenting their science project to President Barack Obama at the third annual White House Science Fair, and missed districts.

“She’s a wonderful player,” Ruchaber said of Rao. “I knew if she played at state last year, she’d score us points. The two years Meghana didn’t play at state, we lost to Lincoln by one point. The year she did play, we won state, so hopefully we can keep her around.”

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit senior Darby Rosette will be joined by Meghana Rao on the Crusaders top doubles team this season.

Rao missed districts while visiting Washington D.C., which kept her out of the running when it came to teaming up with Rosette on the state stage. In 2012, Rao’s academic expertise also took away from her time on the tennis court, though Ruchaber said if the senior can play at state she could help the two-time state runner-up Crusaders get over the hump as a team. Ruchaber said she spends extra time plotting out doubles’ strategy because that’s where additional team points can be made up.

“That’s how we can keep in the hunt and be a threat,” said Ruchaber. “When you look at the single’s ladder, you can kind of tell how it’s going to be at the top. But, in doubles’, it’s more of a wide-open bracket. Anything can happen. Doubles are a lot of fun to coach, watch and to play.”

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit senior girls tennis player Erin Larner is shooting for her fourth straight singles championship this year.

Danielle Larner— Erin’s sister— and Jules Symmonds are two of the many ready Crusader underclassmen waiting in the wings behind the two superstars who Ruchaber said could score team points at the district and state levels. Because Jesuit hasn’t had many practices up to this point in the preseason, the remaining top spots on both the Crusaders’ singles’ and doubles’ ladders are open.

“They’re all kind of equal and they can intermix,” said Ruchaber. “I would like them all to get a chance to play with each other and play around to see who fits best with who.”

With Larner, Waldram, Rosette and Rao in the fold along with the young stars looking to blossom in the next two months, Jesuit’s not shy about wanting to turn its 2012 and 2013 second place state team trophies into a shimmering blue first place.

“It’s not a secret, it’s a goal,” said Ruchaber. “We’ve all discussed it. With the team we have this year, we should compete very well in the postseason. Last year we competed to the best of our abilities, and this year we hope to do the same.”

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