The North Coast Section Division II Doubles Championships in Fortuna were significantly smaller than they have been in the past. Del Norte’s top doubles team of senior Jasmine Pearson and junior Danika Scott, fresh off a Humboldt-Del Norte League doubles championship, were fortunate enough to receive a randomly drawn first round bye. That automatically moved them on to the medal round and although the Warriors lost in the semifinals and the third-place match, Pearson and Scott received medals for their efforts.

“Normally there are 16 teams in the bracket, but there only ended up being five this year,” said Del Norte head coach Sara Sampels. “So they ended up going to an eight-team bracket with only five teams playing. The No. 1 and the No. 2 seed got an automatic bye, and then there was another bye that was randomly drawn, and we got the bye so we made it through the first round.”

So the Warriors’ first NCS Doubles match on Monday came in the semifinals of the smaller bracket. Pearson and Scott were matched up with No. 2 seeded SF University and ended up falling 6-1, 6-3 after a slow start to the match.

“Really it was just about jitters,” Sampels said. “They were just so nervous for the match, and I felt like they didn’t really start warming up until the second set. But by then it is kind of hard to recover. They just had some mis-hits and you could tell that they weren’t comfortable. They were trying to play it safe, but it just wasn’t quite working of them.”

With the first round bye, the Warriors were fortunate enough to get a second chance in the tournament.

“They are happy that they were able to take advantage of the opportunity to play again,” Sampels said. “A lot of times when you go to the NCS Tournament from the small town that we are from, you get one shot and then you are out because it is single elimination. A lot of the times our girls fall flat because we don’t have that tournament experience that a lot of the other girls from the urban areas get.”

Pearson and Scott took advantage with what they felt was a much better showing on Tuesday in their third place match against Piedmont.

“We had a rough day on the first day. Our shots were just too long or we were just missing them. It just wasn’t a good day.,” Pearson said. “Today was much better though. All of our shots were going and our serves were good. All the girls down there are hard hitters and hard-fast servers, but we were able to return and keep up with them.”

Del Norte ended up falling 6-4, 6-0 in the third place match, but Pearson was happy with the way she and Scott played. The first set went back and forth while the second set was much closer than the final score indicates.

“We went 0-6, but we went to deuce in almost every game,” Pearson said. “We were trying so hard, we just didn’t get those crucial points. But we were fighting. Last year Piedmont was ranked No. 1 when we played for the team championships, so we felt pretty good because we were ranked at the bottom last year. It was a good feeling to be able to play with them.”

Although excited about how they played in their last match of the year, Tuesday was bittersweet for the Del Norte senior.

“It was sad,” Pearson said. “I am sad that that is it, but I am hoping to practice with the guys team, practice at the indoor courts, and just see where that takes me. I am excited to see how Dan does in her singles next year as the No. 1 player. It will also be interesting to see how the rest of the ladder works out — we will see who shows up and who really wants to play.”

Pearson hadn’t played much tennis prior to entering high school. In fact, Del Norte’s No. 1 tennis player tried out for the volleyball team in the fall of her freshman year, before switching over to tennis after a few weeks.

She is certainly glad that she did.

“Tennis has been the only sport that I wasn’t dreading going to practice,” Pearson said. “Usually I think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go to practice. It is going to be hell on earth and we are going to do all this crazy stuff.’ My freshman year I remember coming out and being surprised that I was actually sad when practice was over. It has just been a lot of fun. It is probably the most fun sport that I have ever played.”

As a graduating senior, Pearson’s days of high school tennis are now over. She is still hopeful that she may have a chance to continue playing competitively in the near future, however.

“I will look around and see maybe, just to have more opportunities to play,” she said. “I was just thinking today at the end of my match, ‘This can’t be it. This can’t be the last one. I have to keep playing.’ So hopefully maybe at a junior college there will be a team that I can play with.”

Pearson was the only senior on the team this season for Del Norte, as the Warriors turned in an 8-4 overall team record in Sampels’ first year back coaching the girls tennis team.

“I had a great season with the girls, and I felt that with so many changes in the ladder from last year to this year we really showed that we have depth and we were able to compete,” Sampels said. “I’m really happy with Jasmine and Danika for making it to the NCS and winning the league —that was kind of the goal that I had for them all season. I am also super thankful for Samuel Escobar for helping coach this season. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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