VAN — Last year, Van tennis coach Melissa Wells was helping out with the state tennis tournament.
Wells, who took over last year from longtime and successful coach Brad Crawford, thought watching the state tournament would be a good experience for her players. She took three tennis players to College Station to soak in the atmosphere.
"I was helping coach (Darryl) Beasley (UIL assistant athletic director), so I invited some of my students to the state tournament so they could get a look," Wells said. "We were walking through the tennis center (Mitchell Tennis Center at Texas A&M University) and they got to look at the facilities and the locker rooms.
"Courtney (Pickett) looked at me and said, ‘Coach Wells, I'm going to be here next year.'"
And it has come true for Pickett and her doubles partner Mariah Maxfield and the doubles squad of Taylor Attaway and Mullika Seekhieo.
So for the first time in Van school history, the Lady Vandals have two girls doubles team at the state tournament, Wells said.
"I told coach Wells ‘This is awesome,''' Pickett, a junior, recalled. "‘I'm going to be here next year.' I guess I am a fortune teller."
The teams' quarterfinal matches of the Class 4A tournament are slated for noon Tuesday on the Texas A&M campus. Attaway and Seekhieo will play the Abilene Wylie pair of Emly Corn and Ashley Smyser, while Maxfield and Pickett will take on defending state champions Emily Graf and Lauren Stanley of Vernon.
Winners advance to the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. later Tuesday with the finals slated for noon Wednesday.
"It's been a drought (of getting someone to state)," Wells said. "Five years has been too long, especially for Van. We were challenging our kids to get their names on the Wall of Champions. Now we have two more teams."
The two squads make the 90th and 91st names on the Wall of Champions, a huge plaque in the Van Tennis Center.
"Tennis is important to the Van community," Wells said. "When we bring the junior high kids here, we tell them one of their goals to shoot for is to have their names up on the Wall of Champions. Many have relatives with their names up there."
Early in the year, Wells said, "I challenged them — why can't Van take two teams to state?"
And now they will and they will have their names upon the board.
Attaway and Seekhieo, both seniors, won the regional championship in Longview over their teammates.
Both started tennis in their seventh grade year.
"My uncle (Sam Rumbo) played and when he was a senior and I was a freshman he really encouraged me to continue playing tennis," said Attaway, who ranks No. 10 in her class and will be attending Tyler Junior College on an academic scholarship. She plans to major in business.
Seekhieo started as a seventh grader as well, but took a different route.
She was born in Thailand and came to the United States when he was a sixth grader.
Seekhieo and her family moved from Arlington to Van before her junior high year and she is happy her family settled in East Texas.
She ranks No. 29 in her class and will attend East Texas Baptist University where she will play tennis and major in kinesiology. She wants to go into physical therapy.
Maxfield and Pickett finished second at regionals. They both say communication is the key to their success. Also, both are seniors.
Maxfield said she is from a tennis family and they encouraged her to play and "when I started I really liked it."
She is ranked No. 6 in her class and will attend Texas State University-San Marcos where she will major in business and finance.
Pickett has not decided where she will attend college after next year, but she is pointing toward playing mixed doubles with her brother Cody, who will be a sophomore in 2015-16.
The last girls doubles team to win a state title for Van was in 1996, the team of Macy Musgrave and Connie Pyle. In 2009, the mixed doubles team of Josh Wilgus and Natalie Hand won the state championship.
Area Tennis Players at UIL State Tournament
Boys Doubles — Siddarth Kortikere-Neal Rangu, Longview.
Girls Doubles — Annie Tarwater-Kirsten Weber, Texas High.
Boys Singles — Dawson Penn, Longview Spring Hill.
Boys Doubles — Takashi Thomas-Sangit Lanka, Kilgore.
Girls Singles — Mabry Nichols, Longview Spring Hill; Shelby Pirtle, Wills Point; Stevie Ybara, Palestine.
Girls Doubles — Julie Garcia-Malory Nehring, Center; Taylor Attaway-Mullika Seekhieo, Van; Mariah Maxfield-Courtney Pickett, Van.
Mixed Doubles — Ashleigh Davis-Hunter Foster, Kaufman.
Boys Singles — Will Humphreys, Nacogdoches Central Heights; Nathan Badders, Nacogdoches Central Heights.
Girls Singles — Regan Humphreys, Nacogdoches Central Heights.
Girls Doubles — Cayman Sutton-Niki Barham, White Oak.
Girls Singles — Florentina Landaverde, Martins Mill.