Brooke Fager knows what it’s going to take at this weekend’s State 4A girls tennis tournament.
The Lewis and Clark senior had an injury at the start of the spring season, but it’s not her body that will be key to her winning a third state trophy in three trips to the tournament.
“You really have to be mentally tough to be successful at this tournament,” she said.
As a freshman, Fager teamed with Abby DeNike to win the state doubles title, beating Nicole Yen and Kayla Lee of Eastlake in the finals in straight sets.
A year later she was back as the Tigers No. 1 singles player and placed seventh. She lost a three-set heartbreaker in the quarterfinals and fell, again in three sets, in the fourth-place match.
“I don’t know how to describe what was going on my sophomore year,” Fager said. “I definitely didn’t have the right mindset that year. I faced some really good players. I was mentally prepared for that aspect, but overall it was my mental game that got me.
“This year I’m feeling strong. And I’m definitely more focused.”
Fager took her junior year off from high school tennis to concentrate on improving her game, her ranking on the USTA circuit and college recruiting.
Fager was an alternate on the 2018 Girls U18 United States National Team and in November she signed a national letter of intent to play college tennis at Biola University, which is just 16 miles from downtown Los Angeles in La Mirada.
The Biola Eagles are in the middle of a three-year transition process to join NCAA Division II.
“I’m excited to play college team tennis,” Fager said. “Tennis is kind of an independent sport, but in college tennis you really are part of a team. It’s a lot like high school tennis that way.”
Fager said the pressure was off once she made her college decision, and she opted to return to the Tigers as a fun way to cap her high school career. A slight overuse injury slowed her at the start of the season, but liberal use of ice and some tender care by her physical therapist had her back soon enough.
“You can tell that she’s worked hard on her game, and you can really tell the difference in her mental approach,” LC coach Eric Woodard said. “You see it in the way she is able to put aside a bad shot or a bad game. She’s able to just move past it and get back to her game. You could see that in the district tournament.”
The transition from playing tennis in the Greater Spokane League, including at the district tournament, and playing at state is as big of a shift as there is in high school sports.
“Players from the west side are just so far ahead of us in Eastern Washington,” Fager said. “Tennis isn’t as popular on this side of the state, and there are so many more opportunities to learn and play the game on the other side.
“I know most of the players that will be playing singles at state. They play on the same circuit I play on. I’ve played some of them.”
Fager said she sometimes keeps notes on the players and how they played in matches – her father wishes she did that more. She’s not going to rely on them this weekend.
“I haven’t played with them since last November and a lot can change in how they play in that much time,” she said. “I’m going to concentrate on my own game, and I will adapt once I start a match.”
When she was a freshman, the Tigers had two doubles teams place at state (Hannah Hendricksen and Mary Stoa were seventh), and LC claimed the state team title.
“This year we have more of a head start,” Woodard said. “This year we’re sending a No. 1 singles player and a No. 1 doubles team. Brooke should do well and our doubles team (senior Carolyn Johnson and junior Madelyn Dibble) is one of the top four seeds.”
“Playing doubles at state is not easier than playing singles by any means,” Fager said. “But I think state doubles teams are more evenly matched than in singles.”
Johnson and Dibble first opted to play doubles together at last year’s Inland Empire tournament, finishing second in their classification. This year they cruised through the Greater Spokane League season undefeated and are the No. 1 seed coming out of the district tournament.
“Carolyn has played all four years for me, and Madelyn played singles for me last year,” Woodard said. “She did well, just not quite as well as she would have hoped. Since it doesn’t count toward the GSL standings, I tend to ask the kids what they want to do there.
“Carolyn and Madelyn just had incredible chemistry together right from the start. They are fun to watch and they are so much fun that a lot of times their opponents will come up to them after a match and give them a big hug.”