Prairie coach Chris Lindquist can’t say enough good things about Akari Baba, the No. 1 singles players for the Falcons.
Baba is well on her way to building college credits before she even leaves high school. She an exceptional grade-point average. She’s a great teammate. And not a bad player in her own right.
Yes, all these things can be said about many players in the Greater St. Helens League. Girls tennis in the area is full of players with high GPAs, class presidents, great teammates. We’ll meet more in the coming weeks.
This week my visit was to the 3A GSHL for the first time this season: Kelso at Prairie.
Baba has been to state all three previous years playing for Prairie. She won the state doubles title as a freshman with her sister Shiori, a senior, in 2012.
“After that, I thought it’d be pretty easy,” Akari said on Wednesday after her 6-0, 6-0 win over Kelso’s Lisa Karnofski. (Lindquist pointed out that Baba and Karnofski are good friends and Karnofski went along with the Prairie team to state last year as a hitting partner for Baba.)
But placing at state wasn’t easy. Her next year playing singles, Baba qualified for state, 1-2 and did not place.
Then last year Baba placed third at state in singles, coming back from losing the opening set to win the match 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. Of note, both in 2013 and 2014, Baba lost at state to the eventual 3A runner-up.
“I placed well, but I want to make it better,” she said, adding that she has learned that “if I don’t give up, I still have a chance.”
Always room for improvement, Baba said she wants to get better at attacking.
“Attacking when I can. And when I do, make it matter,” she said.
When not buried in school work, Akari is hitting tennis balls at Vancouver Tennis Center and at Prairie with her team. Kind of a stress reliever from the books. She also plays USTA events when not in the high school season.
In USTA Pacific Northwest rankings as of April 2, Baba is No. 41 in the girls 18s age group.
“I moved up one!” she said proudly when told of the new ranking number.
Baba has good company in the USTA-PNW junior rankings. Also in the rankings are Skyview’s Sami Hampton (No. 1), and Camas’ Jenn Lewis (9) and Hannah Gianan (27).