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Viking duo finishes fourth, earns bid to state tournament


Natalie Brandt and Karimi Nyamu take fourth place at the district tournament

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Forest Grove senior Natalie Brandt hits a backhand while teammate Karimi Nyamu looks on during last week's district tennis tournament.MCMINNVILLE — There isn’t anything quite like qualifying for state for the first time on your last chance.

That is exactly what Natalie Brandt did at last week’s Pacific Conference girls tennis district tournament, where the Forest Grove senior finished fourth in doubles with Karimi Nyamu, earning a berth in this week’s Class 6A state tournament.

The duo, the No. 3 seed in the bracket, rolled through early-round play in Forest Grove on Thursday and Friday before sealing a state berth with a quarterfinal victory. Though the girls dropped their two matches on championship Saturday, staged at Linfield College, that mattered little in the bigger context of making state.

“I’ve been working for it for so long,” Brandt said. “Last year I made it to the quarterfinals and lost in a really tough match. My partner graduated, and looking into this year, I had no idea what I was going to play.”

The graduation of Brandt’s former partner, Taylor Aasland, put Brandt in need of a new partner after last spring, and she found one in Nyamu, a junior who turned out for the team for the first time last year and played No. 1 singles for Forest Grove for much of this season.

The two girls make a good pairing, Forest Grove coach Kelli Tusow said, given their differing strengths.

“They kind of balance each other out personality-wise and play-wise,” Tusow said. “Natalie kind of dominates at the net, and Karimi is obviously a really good singles player, so baseline she’s really good at.”

Brandt and Nyamu showed well early on, dropping only four sets in the first two rounds. Then, in the quarterfinals, with a slot in the state tourney on the line, the duo downed No. 5 Ayumi Mizuno and Fumika Mizuno of Tualatin 6-1, 6-4.

“We played really well,” Brandt said. “We played better than we ever had together, and it showed. It was a great match.”

With Brandt’s former partner Aasland on hand Saturday, the Vikings duo almost broke through against second-seeded Molly Olsen and Sam Purdy of McMinnville before dropping a 7-6(6), 6-1 decision. Olsen and Purdy went on to win the championship final in straight sets.

And though Brandt and Nyamu were competitive against fourth-seeded Alenka Beralas and Maddie Wiltshire of Newberg, the Tigers duo picked up a 6-3, 6-4 win to claim third place.

Also for Forest Grove, freshman Esther Vega advanced to the singles quarterfinals before losing in straight sets to eventual champion Eka Essien of Century.

As for state, Brandt and Nyamu drew Central Catholic’s Emma Anderson and Julia Johnson, who placed second in the Mt. Hood Conference. That match is tentatively slated for 9:45 a.m. Thursday at the Portland Tennis Center.

“I’m just ... excited and kind of nervous, but just ready to show that we can do it,” Nyamu said.

As for the Forest Grove boys, Jonathan Faris and Andrew Van Dyke advanced to the doubles quarterfinals, and Mitchell Faris took the singles consolation championship.