Maryam Amin-Rashti and Kelley Solberg are probably both the most thrilled and the most unlikely tennis players to have qualified for the 5A semifinals.
With a combined four years of competitive tennis among them, the two seniors from Hunter High defied the odds by beating teams from Skyline and Alta Friday at Liberty Park.Not only is it a rarity that a team or player from the west side of Salt Lake Valley has advanced past the first two rounds, but it's also the first time Hunter has ever had a tennis semifinalist.
"It's just exciting to get this far," said Solberg, beaming with a smile.
Amin-Rashti and Solberg didn't start playing for the Wolverines until their junior years. And neither had much experience or any official lessons when they first took the court for the varisty team.
"I played with my brother a couple of times, but he couldn't hit the ball," Amin-Rashti joked. "So that didn't count."
Aside from help by Hunter coach Doug Jones, the two Wolverines didn't get any official instruction until this past winter when the entire team spent a couple of hours a week for two months with a tennis pro.
After their first set Friday, it appeared Amin-Rashti and Solberg would only have their Region 2 championship to celebrate. Alta's Rebecca Despain and Holly Segura defeated them 6-2 in fairly quick fashion Friday morning.
"We were just really nervous in our first match," said Solberg. "Our nerves were on high."
They settled down after that and rallied for a 6-3 win in the second set and outlasted the Hawks 7-5 in the third to clinch the match. They then defeated Skyline's Terri Olsen and Kim Poulsen in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1, to earn a spot in today's final rounds.
"We weren't born with courts in our backyard, so this means more to us," said Solberg. "We've worked hard the last past years to get where we're at."
Amin-Rashti and Solberg, who qualified for the state tournament last year, have their hands full today to continue their Cinderella story. They face a powerful Brighton team of Heather and Whitney Cannon, who only lost three total games against Copper Hills and Mountain View.
Brighton is the only team to have semifinalists in all three singles and both doubles. The two-time defending 5A champion Bengals don't have much room for error as Orem trails by only one point and has players in four spots.
The 5A semifinals begin today at 10 a.m. at Liberty Park, with the championships scheduled to start at 1 p.m. The 3A tennis tournament also concludes today, and the 4A tourney begins first- and second-round action at BYU this morning.