When it comes to girls tennis in the Tri-Cities, Sierra Troxel is the first name that comes to mind.
But lurking in the shadows is Kennewick junior Stephanie Buckingham, who for three years has played second fiddle to Troxel.
That could change this weekend at the Class 3A district tournament, which begins today at Hanford and Richland high schools. Troxel is the No. 1 seed, Buckingham the No. 2.
While Troxel, a Hanford senior, is seeking her third district title, Buckingham will be working her way through the other side of the bracket for a chance to meet her good friend in the finals — once again.
“Growing up, we have been (Tri-City) Court Club buddies,” Buckingham said. “We have been playing together a lot longer than high school. When I got to high school, I knew it would be tough and I’d always be one step behind her. Since my freshman year, we have met a lot of times. The closest I have been is 6-4, and that was my freshman year.”
It doesn’t seem to bother Buckingham that Troxel has had the upper hand.
“Being behind her is not a big thing,” Buckingham said. “Next year I know it will be me. Being friends, I feel if I beat her, that would be weird. As bad as it sounds, I usually go into the match thinking I am going to lose to her. She’s a smart player. With me, when we rally, she’ll be the one to finish it. I just have to work on my confidence. It’s definitely a mental thing with her.”
And only her.
Buckingham is 20-3 this season, with two losses to Troxel and one to Elle Gamble (Centennial of Boise) in the semifinals the Tri-City Invite, where she finished third.
“She’s friends with Sierra and that makes it easier to deal,” Kennewick coach Steve Buckingham said of his daughter. “She and Sierra have been doubles partners in the summer for years, and they have had great success.”
As the postseason rolls around, Buckingham would like to improve on last year’s second-place finishes at district and regionals, and her seventh-place showing at state.
While she worked on her serve last summer, her coaches have had her working on her net game.
“My serve this year has grown a lot,” Buckingham said. “Over the summer, I worked on it everyday. My forehand is stronger than my backhand, and recently my backhand has been having trouble, which is frustrating.
“Right now, I am working on my net game. Both of my coaches have been wanting me to come to the net. They feel I have a better net game than baseline game, and I agree. I think because I’m not used to it, I don’t come to the net as much, but that is what I’m working on for districts.”
Buckingham always has been coached by her dad, which comes with mixed feelings.
“It’s hard,” she said. “I feel like I have more expectations than the other players. There’s more focus on me because I’m the coach’s daughter. He tries to focus on the other players because he knows it bugs me when he’s there. After the matches, he tries to say the right thing.”
Notes: The boys 3A district matches will be played today and Saturday at Richland High School, while the girls matches will be at Hanford High School. Matches start at 1 p.m. today and at 10 a.m. Saturday. The top three boys singles and doubles teams advance to regionals next week at Kennewick High, while the top two girls singles and doubles team move on. The boys 4A district meet will be held today (1 p.m.) and Saturday (10 a.m.) at Chiawana High School, while the girls will play at Pasco High. Top two boys and girls singles and doubles teams advance to regionals next in Richland.