Lake Washington High girls tennis coach John Stalker takes such pride in his talented singles players that he didn’t want a local reporter to exit the court until watching them unleash their shots during a recent practice.
Stalker pointed at the action and smiled.
Playing in an impromptu doubles format for the showcase, Ellie Gershaw, Jillian Hines, Saba Tabatabai and Safija Nizamic displayed solid forehands, backhands and footwork that put their multi-colored shoes — powder blue, black, orange and violet — to the test.
The Kangs had swung through eight matches at press time, gripping onto a 7-1 overall record and second-place 4-1 mark in 3A KingCo contests.
Stalker noted that a strong mixture of newcomers and veterans fill out the singles and doubles ladders nicely. He used the words gritty, energetic and focused when describing his players.
“I like to play with a lot of variety, so I think working on my drop shot and lobbing has worked for me a lot this year,” said freshman Gershaw, LW’s No. 1 singles player.
Gershaw began her tennis journey at age 4, but didn’t start taking the sport seriously until age 10. She thrives within the team atmosphere on the high school scene and enjoys competing in 3A KingCo and having control over how much she improves her game.
Focus and belief in her game are paramount to her success. Gershaw knows that if she remains diligent during matches, she’ll land in the win column.
No. 2 singles player Nizamic arrived at LW this season after spending the last few years in Bosnia.
“I love the team atmosphere, I love how we all get to cheer for each other, how we all are part of one union that we all play for each other,” said US-born Nizamic, whose cousin Nedim Suko teamed up with Shubhu Purohit at LW to win the state doubles title last season.
Nizamic, a junior, is pleased with her first serve and forehand, which she’s had a good handle on recently.
The Kang likes what she sees on all the courts and beyond.
“Our team is really hard working, even off the court they’re really good students. Whenever I can help, I love to do that,” she added.
Senior lefty Tabatabai has played on varsity for four years and currently shines in the No. 3 singles spot.
She’s persistent in reaching her goals of excelling physically and mentally when the ball bounces into play. As a lefty, she prefers her deep-angled backhand that is tough for opponents to handle, and hitting sharp angles on volleys.
“I feel like I’ve become much more of a tougher player both on and off the court,” she said. “You talk to yourself a lot when you’re playing. There’s points where you are constantly losing, but then when you kind of bring yourself back up, it’s like the winning never stops. I feel like if I carry that off the court, I’m much more determined off the court as well.”
Tabatabai feels the team has experienced tremendous growth as well, both in skill and unity.
At No. 4 singles, freshman Hines’ game took a serious bent when she was in seventh grade and she looks forward to what each day brings to her tennis world.
“I love how you learn new stuff every single time you go out on the court, whether it’s physical, like hitting different shots, or improving your own mental game with not getting so down on yourself,” she said.
She enjoys implementing her forehand to attack opponents’ backhands, a strategy that has worked well for her this season. Also in KingCo play, “I get to change up my variety and experiment with shot selection,” she said.
Gutting out victories on the doubles side are No. 1 duo Sasha Chudin and Kate Cocales, the No. 2 team of Lily Laursen and Nicole Carpenter and No. 3 pairing of Isabella Oltean and Taylor Isaacson.