Marissa Baca returns to Ironwood Ridge to defend her doubles state championship, but this year, she has a new partner in "best friend" Katrina Domingo. BENJIE SANDERS / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Just a sophomore, Ironwood Ridge's Marissa Baca enters the 2011 tennis season with a lot of experience.

Baca won the state doubles title as a freshman with partner Sara Brown and is the No. 1 singles player, as well as team captain, for the Nighthawks this year.

And while she has a new partner in Katrina Domingo on Ironwood Ridge's No. 1 doubles team, Baca said the adjustment has not taken much effort - on or off the court.

She and Domingo, both 15, have known each other since they were 10 and are "best friends." The sophomores are even in the same physics class.

"It wasn't that hard to adjust, because I've been playing with Katrina for a really long time, too," Baca said.

Ironwood Ridge coach William Little said the relationship between Baca and Domingo is a key strength because their communication allows them to "make adjustments and pool resources on the court."

Their communication is just one of their strengths. Here are three other goals Baca and Domingo have to accomplish to win a state championship.

1. Take advantage of the forehand

Baca and Domingo have a combination advantage that not all partners are lucky enough to possess. Baca is right-handed; Domingo is left-handed.

That gives the duo the opportunity to return every opponent's serve on their strongest hand.

"We both get to play our forehand, which is really good," Baca said. "It's a lot easier to poach off the forehand side. We each get to do that, too."

The ability to answer serves lets them set up the volley and establishes a return advantage against opponents who may have same-hand abilities.

Because one player is not forced to play her backhand, it makes it easier for Baca and Domingo to always have a chance to return serve.

2. Control the middle of the court

Baca and Domingo said they have a specific strategy when it comes to winning points: keep their opponents off balance by controlling the middle of the court.

Little said controlling the middle lets the partners maintain control while controlling opponents' actions.

Domingo said she and Baca use the net and the corners to their advantage.

"We work the middle and then we pull them off the court. Once we see they're off balance, we love to approach the net," Domingo said.

The strategy is designed to score easy points. The pair can win easy points by forcing opponents to cover all areas of the court, and set up the ability to poach, according to Baca.

3. Use their individual strengths

Even in doubles tennis, their individual talents are what could take Baca and Domingo to the top.

Domingo's serve is one advantage, but what makes the difference is her weight-lifting and clinic work at Bermudez Tennis Academy, Little said.

The extra work gives her the ability to "make points happen," he said.

Baca has the ability to "come up with amazing, key points that can turn around a match," Little said.

Baca said her effort gives her that ability on the court.

"Every point matters. I'm going to try 100 percent to win the point," Baca said. "No matter what I'm trying, even if it's a close point, I try and win it as best I can."

Watch list

Athletes chosen by Star staff in consultation with area coaches.

• Courtney Amos, Jr., Salpointe Catholic

• Lauren Amos, Jr., Salpointe Catholic

• Marissa Baca, So., Ironwood Ridge

• Rachana Bhat, Sr., Catalina Foothills

• Sadiya Buta, Jr., Desert View

• Samantha Lund, Jr., Rincon/University

• Cristina Oropeza, So., Nogales

• Sam Ruth, Sr., Catalina Foothills

• Zaina Sufi, Jr., Catalina Foothills

• Sami Towne, Jr., Pusch Ridge Christian