Palo Verde’s Tia Okano had not played a doubles match during her freshman season until the Class 4A state semifinal Thursday at Darling Tennis Center.
Her debut could not have gone any better.
Normally Palo Verde’s No. 2 singles player, Okano teamed with Shanari Griffin to go 3-0 in doubles, helping the Panthers gain a 10-8 victory over Coronado and a spot the championship match against Bishop Gorman at 9 a.m. Friday.
“We wanted to give them a new look,” Palo Verde coach Jane Centrella said. “Tia’s very strong in doubles. She is very focused, very aggressive.”
Okano had played some doubles during practices, but was solely a singles player during the regular season and Sunset Region tournament.
But as the Panthers (14-1) looked for a spot to steal an extra point in a match they knew would be close, Centrella’s strategy was to move Okano to doubles and sacrifice a point or two in singles.
The move played out perfectly.
“We knew it was going to be harder today, especially in doubles, so coach put me and Shanari together because we’re really good friends,” Okano said. “We knew we had to put on our 'A’ game. It was so much fun.”
Victoire Saperstein won her three matches for Palo Verde’s only singles points. Megan Randazzo and Sarah Sanders also went 3-0 in doubles, including a 6-4 victory over Marina Arriola and Kayla Tarlton that gave the Panthers a 9-8 lead in the third round.
The clinching point was won by Jade Powell and Michaela Jackson with their 6-4 victory over Coronado’s Sarah Pate and Allie Sanford in the final match.
Paris Reese, Nicole Gardner and Lea Cohen each were 2-1 in singles for Coronado (13-1).
In the opening match, Bishop Gorman freshman Brooke Swallow battled back from a 5-1 deficit against Reno’s Elissa Pavelea in the second round to give the Gaels an 8-4 lead, and they went on to post an 11-7 victory over the Huskies.
Swallow and Pavelea spent their first six games exchanging power ground strokes, but Swallow made an adjustment and charged back to win 7-6 (8).
“I was hitting the ball in the middle of the court, and I just started moving her around in the corners,” Swallow said. “She wasn’t hitting winners as easily. I just kept doing that the rest of the match, and it worked.
“I just thought, 'Don’t give up.’ ”
Sarah Bessen, freshman Chelsea Crovetti and Swallow all went 3-0 in singles for Gorman (13-1) with Bessen winning all three sets 6-0. Crovetti and Swallow won their final sets 7-5.
“I don’t know if our freshmen ever had pressure like that,” coach Gordon Hammond said. “It was a big, pleasant surprise.”
Reno did its damage in doubles, with Conner Board and Mary Garcia going 3-0, and the tandems of Lindsey Parobek and Sloan Walker, and Gina Glogovac and Sabina Bradford each finishing 2-1.
Palo Verde and Gorman met for the Sunset Region title two weeks ago with the Gaels winning, 12-6.
“We were very nervous playing Gorman the first time,” Centrella said. “I think we’ll go in confident and play a lot better.”