Singles play in the sport of tennis is a very lonely gig.
Thomas Jefferson coach Andrew Buchan faced this problem firsthand in 2017. He watched the isolated nature of singles play psychologically tamper with the performance of Erica Dillard and Mia Rosa on the court. So, Buchan, who’s coached Raiders tennis since 1990, put the two together as a doubles team midway through the season.
The gamble worked. The two produced win after win, which led to a sixth place finish in the North Puget Sound League tournament and an eighth place finish in the 4A West Central District tournament, qualifying the duo for Friday’s 4A state championship tournament at Hanford High School.
The duo will face Ferris High School’s Kjersti Strandness and Brook Goodwin in the first round of the tournament.
“Erica had always been a singles player until two years ago when she learned to play doubles,” Buchan said. “She had a great year as a singles player last year, but singles is lonely, and both of these girls are quite social. So putting them together has worked really well for us.”
Once Buchan determined the two could dominate together, as opposed to competing on their own, the desired results followed.
It was a process, however. The duo learned early on that talent alone wasn’t going to get them to state.
So the two volunteered to compete in extra tournaments in between their scheduled league appearances for the sole purpose of building chemistry.
When they found out there was a tournament in Vancouver, they seized the opportunity. They hopped in a car and made the two-plus hour drive to the tournament.
The focus wasn’t on tennis, however.
The two yearned for the bonding time. And it was a handful of car rides like these that the two credit for the success they’ve since had on the court.
“On car rides like that, you really get to know a person,” Rosa said. “You’re sitting very close to someone, and just stuff comes up. And we’ve been together [through tennis] our whole lives through Buchan’s program, so building a relationship back up hasn’t been hard.”
The ability to immediately bond came unexpectedly.
The pair spent a good portion of the season either in singles play or with other doubles partners. The two came together after doubles player Ally Peterson needed season-ending surgery, which forced Buchan to shuffle Jefferson’s doubles rotations.
Because of the injury, Dillard and Rosa found themselves together more and more. They made their doubles debut April 15 against Federal Way, and the two got off to a rocky start.
“It was pretty crazy,” Dillard said. ” Our first match together, oh my goodness. First we got down 1-4, then it rained, but we were able to come back and win the match. At that time, I wasn’t really sure we would be able to do it, but we pulled through.”
The two have made additional car rides to other tournaments since their first trip to Vancouver. With every practice and trip across Western Washington, they have grown even closer.
During the process of getting to know each other, communication on the court became easy, which has made supporting one another second nature.
The two high five constantly — good play or bad.
The two high five so much that opponents have no choice but to witness how close they are.
The two hold up their rackets. Rosa’s is lined with white grip tape, while Dillard’s is lined with red.
Dillard’s red tape regularly rubs off onto her hands during a match, and the two high five so often and with such force, that Rosa’s hands and grip become a deep pink by the end of matches.
“Everyone always asks what happens to [Rosa’s] grip because it’s all pink and red,” Dillard said. “We’re just always in it together when we play, no matter if we’re up or down.”
The pair has even developed their own mantra: “Every point twice.”
It means doing whatever it takes while never giving up, which will benefit them heading into state championship competition as a No. 8 seed.
Dillard and Rosa will be joined by fellow Jefferson doubles teammates Makaylie Moore and Michelle Kim as the No. 5 seed.
Between mounting injuries and just eight outdoor practices this season, the goal is for each doubles team to win just one match at state.
Like their long drives to tournament sites during the regular season, the players want to grow closer as a team while on the biggest stage of the season.
Whether they win or lose, Dillard and Rosa are thrilled they don’t have to go it alone.
“It comes down to every point twice,” Rosa said. “It doesn’t matter how long our match takes, or how long we’re out here. We can do this. I feel so lucky to play with Erica. It’s fun. As intense as it is at times, we have a lot of fun. And being together, we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”