Vi Koka approached it like an everyday practice, whereas Kiyoko Hashimoto thought of it as a championship match.
It might explain why when the two Mountain Pointe juniors met in the Independence Invitational single finals recently Hashimoto dominated, 11-3, 11-2.
“It was a different situation because when you are playing someone you don’t know it is very intense,” Koka said. “We play each other. We warmed up against each other and it was just different.”
The duo just might get another meeting with a little more on the line as Mountain Pointe coach Pom Brown entered each player into the individual state title tournament, which begins Friday at 10 a.m. at Independence High in Glendale with the finals on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Hashimoto is the No. 1 seed in a tournament of about 110 players, while Koka is the seventh seed, which puts her on the opposite side of the bracket, meaning they could meet in the state finals.
“It would be a different situation with the intensity and the bigger crowd being there,” Koka said of possibly playing Hashimoto in the finals. “Let’s hope it happens.”
They know a little something about performing at the state tournament after they combined to win the doubles state tournament a year ago.
Pride coach Pom Brown began the season not knowing whether or not they would get a chance to defend their title or take a shot at winning it all as individuals.
She expanded their schedule to include invitationals at Chaparral and Independence in order to truly challenge them to the fullest extent.
Turns out that was against each other.
“She’s my friend and we play each other all of the time,” Hashimoto said. “We’re friends but competition is competition.”
As freshmen they played singles and the results weren’t as good as expected.
Koka was eliminated in the second round as an unseeded player while Hashimoto lost in the third round, the only loss of her high school career in singles or doubles, as the second seed.
They’ve come a long way and Brown thinks they are ready to push each other to be champions.
“I always tell them to be at their best,” Brown said. “You can still have fun when you get a big kill. In practice they really push each other and if they meet then they need to play to win.”
Desert Vista’s lineup wasn’t as set throughout the year as several players took turns at No. 1 as the Thunder held challenge matches each week for spots in the lineup.
“The girls improved the entire year,” Thunder coach Jeremy Williams said. “Each time we put a racquet in our hands it’s a chance to get better, and we did that. We have some momentum heading into state and once you get into the dance you never know.”
The Thunder will enter Caitlin Fagan and Karen Guo in singles, while Victoria Wadsworth and Suhitha Veeravelli will be the top doubles team and Alyssa Goldberg and Aakriti Gupta will be the other Thunder entrant into the tournament.
“Victoria and Suhitha can really make a good run as they are playing really well,” Williams said. “They’ve had some good chemistry and with the state tournament you never know what might happen.”
The Pride enters seniors Sabrina Martinez and Geneva Heinkel in doubles along with Larae Keso and Tegan Wambold.
Brown believes Martinez and Heinkel can make it two straight doubles titles for the Pride.
“They are playing very well,” Brown said. “We test them in practice by playing me and my son or we bring back (graduated players) to push them. They have a chance to win it.”
The following week brings the team state tournament, which starts Monday, and the Pride will be the favorite, although probably the second seed, after an undefeated regular season while Desert Vista might be on the outside of the top 16 in the power rankings to miss out on the tournament.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.