Sandy Childress has had several learning moments in her high school tennis career.
There was the time two years ago when the McNary junior had an opponent at match point with a state tournament berth on the line and let the match get away.
Then there was last season when she played doubles for the first time at a competitive level and found success, reaching the district finals and the state tournament for the first tiem.
As a singles player once again, Childress will be a contender for the Central Valley Conference district singles championship this season.
There is no clear favorite in the league this season, but Childress will compete with South Salem’s Courtney Hammagren, North Salem’s Maribel Ocampo and others for the top spot.
“I really do have an opportunity this year to do really well in districts and state,” Childress said. “I’m just trying as hard as I can and practicing as much as I can and playing a lot of tournaments to get ready.”
Childress grew up a softball player and didn’t pick up a tennis racket until the sixth grade.
When it came time for high school, she put down the softball glove and kept the racket in her hands.
There are a few crossovers between the sports, but there’s something about tennis that clicked for her.
“It’s way more mental,” Childress said. “Tennis you’re hitting the ball every time and you have to be in your mental game the whole time. I feel like tennis is 90 percent mental and like 10 percent physical.
“Softball, as a pitcher, it was pretty mental, but I found tennis was a lot more mental for me, and I put a lot more pressure on myself, too. It’s harder for me than softball definitely was, but it’s really rewarding when you get a good win and you feel like you’ve played well.”
Playing singles as a freshman Childress reached the quarterfinals of the singles bracket at the district tournament where she played Sprague’s Bailey Brooks with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
Childress had match point in the third set up 5-4, but lost 7-5.
“She could have, as a freshman, made it as a singles player, she just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” McNary coach Mark Kohley said. “Sandy learned a lot from that. Sandy really was determined after that after that, more determined than ever.”
Being paired as a sophomore with German foreign exchange student Alex Henriques da Silva was beneficial in multiple ways.
Childress hadn’t played doubles much at a competitive level before so it was good for her to stretch out and try something new.
“I didn’t usually like doubles before playing with Alex and so I wasn’t a very good team player in doubles, I guess,” Childress said. “I guess that’s more of my personality. Her and me really clicked and so I guess it was in her personality.”
Playing with Henriques da Silva also benefitted Childress in that it got her competitive side to come out.
Not only were they competing against whoever was on the other side of the net, but they also competed with each other.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re running lines or whether we’re doing pushups and crunches or when we’re playing tennis, she always wants to be first,” Kohley said. “It motivates the rest of the players to want to run hard, to do more pushups and stuff because she wants to be No. 1 at all the pushups and all the running.
“Having Alex there promoted that more because Alex had the same type of mentality. She was very competitive. And when they were running, they were running against each other and really trying to compete against one another.”
That competition worked because they reached the championship match of the Central Valley Conference district tournament, the first time a McNary girls team had done that since 2003.
Childress may return to doubles play next year when her younger sister, Hannah, comes to McNary.
They played in a tournament in Albany a couple weeks ago and won the doubles bracket.
“She thinks I’m crazy, though, because I get way too aggressive in doubles,” said Childress, who’s mother Jenny played in college at Sonoma State. “She’s only been playing for three months and she’s almost as good as me. She’s like a powerhouse. She’s a lot taller than me, too. She’s like 5-8 and she’s only in eighth grade.”
As there’s not a ton of competition for her from McNary’s girls team now, Childress has sought out higher competition.
Not only does she take lessons at Courthouse Tennis Center, but it’s not unusual to see her hitting with John Reid, McNary’s No. 1 boy singles player, at practice to face someone who can hit the ball harder.
“When you’re at the top of your level for where you’re at it’s hard because you have to self motivate,” McNary boys tennis coach Lisa Myers Reid said. “If you can’t do that for yourself you’re not going to reach that next level, or you need to put yourself in a position like with hitting with John and other adults.
“The other part is she’s humble, which I think goes a long way.”
Childress has gained power on her 5-foot-3 frame through weightlifting in the past year, but she’s also improved at her volleying and her backstrokes are getting better.
“She has great groundstrokes, hits good topspin,” John Reid said. “She all around has a really good game. She just works really hard at it, too. Pretty quick around the court. Her all-around game is really good.”
Childress, who carries a 3.8 GPA, takes a full load of Advanced Placement and Honor’s courses in school, but her favorite subject is accounting, a rarity among people her age.
She says she wants a career as an accountant or a Chief Financial Officer.
“I know it’s really weird,” Childress said. “People are like, what? I like the numbers and knowing what you’re supposed to do. I kind of like that.”
Journal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler