Ruling the court

"When Stacie Pate turned out for the Oak Harbor tennis team four years ago, her goal was not to become the next Steffi Graf or Monica Seles. Rather, she just wanted to get some exercise.I just wanted to get into shape, said Pate, a senior this year and the Wildcats' No. 1 singles player.I really enjoyed playing tennis so much as a freshman that I decided to take it more seriously my sophomore year,'' said Pate.How serious of a tennis player did Pate become? Four years later Pate is now the Wildcats' all-time leader in wins. Last Friday Pate earned her 39th with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Amy Zavaglia of Edmonds-Woodway. The win surpassed the old mark previously held by Kate Murphy.Pate, who has been Oak Harbor's No. 1 singles since her sophomore year, went undefeated last spring during the regular season. She is off to a 5-0 start this spring.Oak Harbor coach Horace Mells points out that Pate has become successful because of hard work.She has the personal desire to excel, Mells said. She has improved her forehand from last year. Her knowledge of the game has improved every year, too.Pate and other Oak Harbor teammates pay a price to excel. They often travel to Stanwood to play in an indoor court on weekends. That's because there is no indoor facility on Whidbey Island.During the summers Pate works on her game by playing in tournaments on and off the island. Last summer she played in the Champs' competition, a series of tournaments which had top players from around the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Pate is ranked 25th among singles players for her age group in the Pacific Northwest.She also improves her knowledge of the game by watching televised professional tournaments.If there's a tournament on, I'll usually watch it, Pate said.All well as she is playing this year, Mells notes that Pate still has room for improvement.She's still not where she should be. Hopefully she will get to the point where she is playing even better than she is now, Mells said. I expect she will.Improved efforts could sent Pate to the 4-A state tournament this spring as a singles player. She barely missed qualifying for state last year in singles, taking third in the district tournament. Pate reached the district semifinals before losing.There was a bit of controversy at district, Mells said. She had won a three-hour match and didn't get enough rest. They gave her just 30 minutes. She had a 5-2 lead in her semifinal match, then just ran out of gas.Pate did qualify for state in doubles, playing with Theresa Black.They started out pretty well by beating one of the top teams in the first round, Mells said. Then they lost in the second round to a team that finished second.Pate knows the road to state in singles won't be easy because defending district champion Nancy Hung of Kamiak is back this spring.Last year my goal was to get to state and it didn't happen, Pate said. I set my goal for this year to get the record for career wins. I've got that now, but it would still be nice to get to state. It won't be easy because there are some real good players in the league.Pate hopes to play college tennis next year. She is considering Eastern Washington University, which might have scholarship available, or walking on at the University of Washington. She likes the UW because it has a criminal justice major.Eastern doesn't have my major, so I might go to the UW, said Pate, who wants to become a police officer one day.Throughout her tennis playing days Pate's most ardent supporter has been her mother Carlene.I really appreciate her support, Pate said. She hasn't missed any of my matches.Before Pate leaves Oak Harbor she would like to fulfil one last objective: beat Mells.He's a great coach. He's taught me a lot of strategies,'' Pate said. My goal is to beat him one of these days. I've tried but I haven't done that yet.Beating her coach would be a fitting end for someone who originally just wanted play tennis for exercise."

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