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Larner begins hunt for fourth state crown

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior Erin Larner has never lost a match in her high school career and hope that trend continues at the Metro District Championships on Saturday.

Erin Larner is only two weeks away from doing the unimaginable, from entering the discussion of best Oregon girls’ tennis player of all-time and cementing her storied legacy.

The three-time defending district and state champion has never lost a high school match. On the biggest stages with the largest crowds under the bubble at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center, Larner has been at her best and put a stranglehold on the 6A tennis scene.

On the doorstep of perennial greatness with the Metro District tournament this Friday and Saturday at the center, Larner said the mounting pressure to four-peat is nearly nonexistent. Larner will approach the district matches and state tournament with the same frame of mind and tenacious focus that’s made her a multiple-time champion.

“The fourth title would really be icing on the cake,” said Larner. “I’m really happy with three (titles), but getting a fourth would be great. It’s a little bittersweet because it’s the last time I’ll have this run through. I’m just going to try and enjoy every moment and do my best.”

The bullseye on Larner’s back when she walks into every postseason match will be enormous. Every observational eye at the center will be on Larner, and every opponent — whether it’s a Lincoln girl or someone on the Crusader roster like Bess Waldram — will have her sight set on the Crusader senior’s crown, knowing she has a shot to shock the state. Yet, Larner said she won’t budge when it comes to the scrutiny.

“I take every match the same way,” said Larner. “I try to focus on myself more than what other people are doing. I try to stay positive and have fun.”

Larner said she’s paid more attention to her fitness level and mental game this season. But, more than working on her game in-between the line, the senior noted she’s more focused on having fun with her teammates and relishing the few precious days left in high school tennis.

“I’m really trying to have a good time on the court,” said Larner. “I’m pretty confident right now. Overall, I’m having a pretty good year so far and just enjoying my senior season.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Erin Larner said she takes the same approach to every match, whether its a dual meet or state final match.

Doubling up

Darby Rosette and Meghana Rao will strut their skills as Jesuit’s top doubles’ team and most likely the district’s No. 1 seed.

For the past two seasons, Rao’s been unable to participate in either district or state competition because of prior science commitments, one of which included presenting an award to President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. School comes first in any sense, but Rao said she’ll be in a Crusader uniform again on the district courts, teaming up with Murphy, her longtime partner from back in their youth.

“This year I’m here and committed, so I’m ready,” said Rao. “We’re determined, and we have high hopes. We want to keep our energy high and stay motivated.”

For as much as Rosette and Rao have played together, dating back to their days of dominating local zonal leagues, the pair hasn’t played together in the high-pressure stakes of single-elimination play.

That supposed deterrent won’t be a hassle, the combo said, because they’re fixed on playing their best each match and letting the cards fall where they may. And, Rao played at the district tournament as a sophomore, so she’s familiar with the top-level talent. Murphy and Sara Murphy— Rao’s replacement — took second at the 2013 state championship match last year.

“I love it,” said Rao. “I love the intensity and everybody being together. The whole team is there, and other schools are there. I love the energy of it.”

Both Crusaders agreed going out with a state championship would be “amazing,” seeing that the two started playing together as 8-year-old tykes lobbing the ball at wide-eyed competitors across the net.

“It’s a lot of pressure sometimes, but it’s definitely a lot of fun,” said Rosette. “There’s always going to be a crowd at districts and state. There’s always going to be different, external factors that you’re going to have to think about. Mostly, we just have to keep our head on the court and focus on our game, not on anyone else’s game.”

Rosette said she and Rao both like to come to the net as much as possible and play the fast-paced, back-and-forth game. Rao controls Rosette's serve and can put the ball away at the net.

“We both cover each other very well,” said Rosette. “We’re both kind of quick, so we get each other.”

“We understand each other’s strengths in a way because we’ve played together for so long,” said Rao.



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