Vancouver student athletes double up in state tournament

VANCOUVER, Wash. — For athletes at the high school level, the ultimate goal is to make the state tournament their respective sport. If they’re good enough, they’ll be crowned state champion at the end.

That’s what Columbia River High School seniors Alex Harris and Cole Benner, both 18, hope to do at the end of WIAA 2A state tournament on May 26 and 27. Columbia River High is in the Vancouver Public School District.

Harris and Benner are doubles partners in tennis and they’re best friends, too. The pair picked up their rackets during their junior year. They said they had narrowed down their choice between tennis and golf, and chose a racquet over a club.

“That was just completely for fun. We didn’t even expect anything. We didn’t know what we would make varsity,” Harris said.

Benner said he briefly took lessons as a small child, but hadn’t played tennis in over a decade.

 “I think it helped a little bit to have the fundamentals down beforehand, but I think a lot of it had to come with just being able to get to the balls and having the soccer speed that I had already had to be able to get to everything that landed on the court,” he said.

Credit: KGW

Harris and Benner are headed to the state tournament as doubles partners, but their last match was in October at Districts. That’s because at Columbia River High School (CRHS), tennis is listed as a fall sport. Both CRHS and the 2A Greater St. Helens League chose to have tennis as a fall sport, instead of a spring sport. The state’s governing body at WIAA, however, lists tennis as a spring sport. 

Columbia River said a lack of courts available would make it hard to share court space with the girl’s team and not make cuts. The state’s tennis tournament takes place in the spring for both girls and boys.

“That happened a long time ago, but I mean, it’s always been on my mind since then,” Benner said.

Harris and Benner are also on the Columbia River boy’s soccer team, a sport unlike tennis that they’ve been playing most of their life.

“I’ve been playing soccer for a long time. I’ve been playing it every year since I was probably around 4,” Benner said.

Harris added, “I’ve been playing soccer since I can remember.”

Credit: Cole Benner

Boy’s soccer is a spring sport at both the high school and state.

The Columbia River boy’s soccer team is ranked number 1 in the state at the 2A level and is in the final four at the state’s tournament. 

Now they find themselves in a bit of an unique situation: two different tournaments for two different sports, and in two different locations.

“We were both wondering how it was going to work with soccer and playing both,” Harris said. 

The tennis tournament starts Friday morning, May 26, at the Nordstrom Tennis Center on the University of Washington Campus in Seattle. The soccer tournament starts at 7 p.m. at the Renton Memorial Stadium in Renton, about a 17-mile distance between the two.

“It’s been something that we’ve been able to look forward to, but dreading this moment now where we’re maybe going to have to make a choice between the two sports,” Benner said.

If the pair win or lost their first double’s match, the fear is that their second match could cut it close to when they need to leave to make their soccer game. According to the state’s tournament schedule, the times for each match have not been listed yet, as of Friday morning.

If they lose both matches on Friday, they are out of the tournament and won’t play Saturday. But if they win at least one of the games on Friday, they will play again in tennis on Saturday, creating a conflict with a second soccer game.

“The biggest fear is if we lose the soccer game, and then tennis would get in the way of that 1 o’clock game (on Saturday),” Benner said.

It’s a situation that’s pretty rare, although not unheard of. CRHS Athletic Director Jen Johnson said she ran into the same situation when she was a coach at Columbia River and had two of her soccer players make it to two different tournaments, too, in the same season.

In the fall, Harris plans to attend Cornell University and will continue to play soccer. Benner plans to attend the Colorado School of Mines and study Environmental Engineering.