Eka Essien and Tommy Edwards are crowned as Pacific Conference district tennis champions

What a day to be a Jaguar.

Last Saturday, on the final day of the Pacific Conference tennis tournament, Century pushed three singles players through the semifinal round and emerged with boys and girls champions in Tommy Edwards and Eka Essien, respectively, and girls runner-up Neyen Essien. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Century sophomore Eka Essien prepares to hit a shot during her 6-1, 6-1 victory over younger sister Neyen Essien in the finals of the Pacific Conference district tennis tournament.

All three players advanced to the Class 6A/5A state tournament in Beaverton and Portland, which started Thursday and continues through Saturday.

Not bad for a high school in which, roughly, a little more than two dozen players — boys and girls combined — turned out for tennis this spring.

“When Tommy came in, we all knew that the three of them were going to make names for themselves, at least in the Pacific Conference,” Century girls coach Taylor Hukill said on Saturday at Linfield College in McMinnville, site of all the championship matches.

“Our goal for the Essiens (is) to get them known statewide. Tommy kind of follows in his sister’s path and has the last name, so everybody’s like, ‘OK, yeah, that’s an Edwards. He’s got to be respected.”

The older Edwards that Hukill referenced is Katie Edwards, who graduated from Century in 2011 and is now a sophomore at Gonzaga. She placed second in singles twice in the state tournament and won third place twice — including as a senior in 2011, Century’s first year in Class 6A after moving up from HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Century freshman Tommy Edwards hits a backhand during his two-set victory over Newberg's Anthony Croteau in the finals of the district tennis tournament.

On Saturday, the younger Edwards, seeded No. 2, knocked off No. 1 Anthony Croteau of Newberg 6-4, 7-5. Earlier in the day in the semifinals, he beat Tualatin’s Randall Tainer 6-1, 6-3 to make the championship final.

“It feels great, just to get an upset over a good player,” Edwards said after the final, when he was often sporting an ear-to-ear smile during his interview.

Earlier this season, Edwards split his matches against Croteau. In the first, the Tigers senior won “pretty good,” Edwards said, before he responded with a three-set victory of his own later in the season.

On Saturday, though both players took turns pulling punches, Edwards needed only two sets to knock off Croteau.

“I just kept the ball in play, and just ran him around until he missed it,” Edwards said about his strategy. “We both played well. It was a really close match.”

After the match, Century boys coach Zarko Suklje was pleased with Edwards’ performance.

“He was playing how he’s supposed to play. He’s a good player,” Sukjle said. “He did a great job, because Anthony has great hands and great skills, but he was too much under ... pressure. He was trying to win for a number of years, and he just couldn’t stand it.”

As for the Essien sisters, they were just following the plan. Both girls were pushed but prevailed in close semifinal matches — No. 3-seeded Neyen was a 6-4, 7-5 winner against McMinnville’s second-seeded Caitlan Baker, while No. 1 Eka needed three sets to top Tualatin’s Taylor Barnes 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.

“To have them both in the championship was our goal from the very get-go,” Hukill noted, adding that she moved Neyen up in Century’s first dual match against McMinnville so she could play Baker. “And it was a very real goal in watching Eka last year.”

In the final, older sister Eka, a sophomore, defeated Neyen, a freshman, 6-1, 6-1 for her second consecutive league singles title.

“It feels great,” Eka said afterward. “But playing against your sister is kind of weird.”

In fact, the girls said, the championship match was the first time they had ever competed against one another in a match. For Neyen, the contest provided some information that may be useful in future matchups against big sis.

“Her forehand,” Neyen noted. “I gotta watch out for that.”

And with both girls being underclassmen, that district final could be just a preview of the coming few years.

“We were joking, (the Essiens’) mom and I, on the way over yesterday, about how Eka paves the way and Neyen just kind of follows,” Hukill said. “And they’ll both be in a good place because Eka’s tredging the way, and Neyen’s just, ‘OK, let’s go.’”

For this week’s state tournament, Edwards drew a first-round bye on Thursday, after which he was scheduled to play either Tualatin freshman Ryan Malinowski or South Eugene junior Isaac Leve in the second round (after press deadline). A win there would put him in today’s quarterfinals. Lincoln junior Goutham Sundaram earned the top seed in the 24-player field.

Both girls said their goal for the Class 6A state tournament was to win their first matches. Eka received a bye in Thursday’s first round, and she was scheduled to play either South Salem junior Maribel Ocampo or Lincoln junior Cam Kincaid in the second round (both rounds after press deadline).

Neyen drew South Eugene sophomore Emily Beckley for a first-round matchup. Jesuit junior Erin Larner, the 2011 and 2012 state champion, is the No. 1 overall seed.

Among the other Hillsboro schools at last week’s district tournament, which began its three-day run last Thursday, Glencoe’s Dan Forbes and Celeste Worthy both made the quarterfinals. Forbes, a senior, lost in two sets to Edwards, while Worthy, also a senior, fell to Barnes in two sets.

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