Hanna Greenberg and Vika O'Brien tried not to consider the big picture while they were still painting it.
That, they both said, would only have added to the pressure they already felt while playing for a third consecutive Class 5A state doubles title.
In the end, it probably wouldn't have made a difference.
Almost unbeatable since teaming up midway through the 2012 tennis season, Greenberg and O'Brien completed their threepeat with ease Saturday, mowing down Kelsey Collis and Morgan DeMeyer of Summit, 6-1, 6-1 at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Beaverton.
If prep tennis had a mercy rule like those used in baseball and softball it most certainly would have come into effect during the Greenberg-O'Brien championship run, considering that the final was their most competitive match in a stampede that included four smackdowns by a combined score of 48-3.
Now that they've had a few days to digest their accomplishment, Greenberg, who will graduate Friday, and O'Brien, who as a junior still has fourpeat potential, stepped back to consider the full weight of their accomplishment Tuesday, the ease with which they ran the table and how the elements of their two distinct games, once combined, produced such explosive results.
Greenberg and O'Brien were first paired together about midway through the 2012 season after Greenberg's usual No. 1 doubles partner, Ashley Knecht, became too sick to play, forcing Ashland coach Gail Patton to make a move. Patton could have bumped up a No. 2 doubles player or moved Greenberg to singles and shifted a few other spots, but the longtime local tennis guru instead decided to match Greenberg up with O'Brien, who had been playing No. 2 singles.
Her hunch was based on sound tennis logic. Greenberg was an aggressive net player with a solid volley game who loved to poach — that is, cut across the net when playing up in order to position herself for quick-strike putaways. O'Brien, on the other hand, excelled from the baseline, served well and never seemed to get rattled, even as a freshman.
Neither Greenberg nor O'Brien remember much about that first match they played together as partners. There was no epiphany, no magical spark or ah-ha moment. It just worked.
"At first, we started playing some good points and working well together and we were able to pull out some close matches," O'Brien said. "Once we won some of those, we could deal with harder competition together."
Both their games have evolved since those first few matches, which has allowed them to adapt to other styles of play.
"When we first started playing together, I would say that I was more of the aggressor," Greenberg said, "but I think that as our game has developed we both have been able to pick up the other's style, so both of us can attack the net and both of us can have backcourt rallies. The chemistry that we've built up has allowed us to play both styles and to know what the other is doing, maybe even before they do it, which has been a lot of fun."
In two-and-a-half seasons together, Greenberg and O'Brien have lost one match, but it was a big one: the 2012 Midwestern League district semifinals.
Thinking back, O'Brien remembers it as a "silly match." Their opponents, Lauren Sibole and Haley Marsh of Marist, were able to do something that no doubles team has been able to accomplish since — force Greenberg and O'Brien out of their comfort zone. It took an unorthodox style to pull it off. Sibole and Marsh, who nabbed the No. 2 seed at state that year but were knocked out in the second round, used a barrage of lobs to keep Greenberg and O'Brien off the net. The Ashland duo appeared to figure it out when they bounced back from a terrible opening set to easily win the second, but Sibole and Marsh leaned on their edge in experience — Sibole was a junior and Marsh a senior — to pull out a 6-1, 0-6, 6-4 victory.
"We kept making way too many errors and we weren't really adapting to it," O'Brien said.
Though painful, the loss taught the Grizzlies a valuable lesson: "To try to keep playing your game no matter what they're playing," O'Brien said. "And if you need to change it up then do it, and fix the problem."
There was another lesson, too, added Greenberg.
"We learned that you shouldn't be too overconfident."
Greenberg and O'Brien still were awarded the No. 4 seed at state that year, then proved that they were underrated by winning four consecutive matches in straight sets to grab their first state championship. Their most competitive match of the tournament was a 6-3, 7-5 quarterfinal victory over Hannah Rondeau and Elizabeth Patterson of Corvallis.
That made 2013 the first in which Greenberg and O'Brien had to carry the weight of the No. 1 seed. If they felt the pressure, they certainly didn't show it while again going 4-0 again with all straight-set victories.
That set up the threepeat possibility, but as they closed in on history Greenberg and O'Brien did their best to keep that out of their collective mind.
"It's hard not to think about that, but on any given day anything can happen and we knew that going into it," Greenberg said. "It was definitely weird having such a big target on our back and having people gunning for us pretty much every match, but when we talked to not only (Patton) but "¦ to my coach in Medford and my basketball coach [Ashley Hafner], they were just giving me a lot of advice about staying in the moment and not looking too far ahead."
"I think we both knew that we just needed to continue moving our feet and not get lazy," O'Brien said. "We had to pretend that they're all going to be at about our level."
As it turned out, once again, none of the challengers hoping to spring the big upset were close to that level.
The championship match was played on the stadium court, which is separated from the other courts, sunken-in and surrounded by stadium seating.
Greenberg and O'Brien weren't at their best from the outset. Both said they played a little tight as they worked out some nerves against Collis and DeMeyer. Then the most prolific doubles team in Ashland High history "kind of lightened up," as Greenberg put it.
Greenberg isn't sure how the match ended. O'Brien thinks it was Greenberg who, fittingly, poached a DeMeyer forehand for the title-clinching winner.
How do you celebrate after clinching your third state title in a row? Like always, of course.
"I just remember dropping my racket and going into our little shoulder bump that we do," Greenberg said. "We've been doing that for a while.
"It was pretty surreal."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com.