It's not uncommon to see two sisters band together to form a doubles team in girls tennis. Having two sets of sisters mix and match to form separate doubles tandems? Well, yes, that scenario is a little unusual.
But it is an approach that proved wildly successful at East this season.
Leopard seniors Rachel Barker and Sarah Black captured a 4A championship in first doubles, beating Pine View's Lauren Wright and Andee Gempeler 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 for the crown. Their younger sisters, Abby Barker and Katie Black, reached the semifinals in the second doubles before falling to another Pine View duo, Hilary Wright and Alexa Ford, 7-5, 6-3.
Sarah and Rachel also finished off their high school careers with consecutive doubles titles in Region 6, while Abby and Katie finished second at the region tournament.
Still, for all of their success, there have been people who could not help becoming confused when the last names of Barker and Black seemed to pop up all over a bracket.
"It's been fun this year," Sarah said. "We've actually had people come up to us and say, 'You can't have the same team play both spots.' But we know it's not that way."
The original Barker and Black partnership had its foundations in junior high school. There, Sarah and Rachel developed their initial friendship. Becoming friends was a natural thing to do, given both girls came from tennis-oriented families and had been swinging rackets almost since they were old enough to carry one.
When both joined the East girls tennis program in high school, there was no question they would team up and play doubles. And when their younger sisters joined the program later on, they decided to have them pair up instead of breaking up a successful team.
"Sarah and I knew we were going to be partners," Rachel said. "We kind of made the decision with (coach) Andy (Noorda) before."
For Rachel, teaming with Sarah to sweep region and state titles was a satisfying conclusion to a season that nearly ended before it even began.
She suffered a bad ankle sprain and tore a ligament at a tennis camp three weeks before school started. The injuries made Rachel wonder how the season would pan out if she could even play at all.
"I didn't think I was going to play for the first little while," she said. "Afterwards, I just started working on getting it healed."
Rachel eventually made a comeback. It took two months for her to regain a full range of motion, but the ankle proved strong enough to hold up throughout the postseason.
Such a development kept a strong doubles partnership intact and led to another title run. Neither girl could have pictured success coming any other way.
"We've just been playing together for so long," Sarah said. "We've been on this team since freshmen (year). We've always worked together and hit together and been best friends."
The older Barker-Black tandem will be gone next fall, but the Leopards still return plenty of talent. Eliza Rassmussen, Morgan Kiser and Jorie Haynes are back for another season in singles competition, and the younger Barker-Black duo will lead the way in doubles.Rassmussen, Kiser and Haynes all will be looking to improve on second-round exits from this year's 4A tournament.