Sterling juniors Allie Shank and Grace Steinke have been together on the tennis court since they were freshmen, and they quite literally wouldn't have it any other way.
Shank and Steinke are the Golden Warriors' No. 1 doubles team in their first year on the varsity squad.
They teamed for the fresh-soph Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference doubles title as freshmen, then got second as sophomores, only because they were in a hurry for homecoming. At least that's their story.
This season, Shank and Steinke stepped right in and earned the No. 1 doubles spot. They are 14-12 on the season, and have helped Sterling to a 9-6 dual record and three invitational championships.
"I watched them play as freshmen, and when they won conference, especially as inexperienced as Allie was, I thought, 'Wow. We've got a good team here that we can groom,'" Warriors coach Kelly Reynolds said.
Shank, Steinke and company will compete Friday at the Rock Island Sectional. None of this year's team members have played in a sectional.
Shank and Steinke have been together so long, they don't want to be apart.
"[Grace] got hurt earlier in the season, and I had to be with someone else for one match," Shank said. "I was so nervous. I was shaking and scared to mess up."
The Northern Illinois Big 12 employs a two singles matches, three doubles matches format for its duals. Reynolds is not a fan, but Shank and Steinke sure are. The less they play singles the better.
"I don't like singles at all," Steinke said. "It's too lonely."
In a Sept. 26 meet at Alleman, Shank and Steinke played both singles and doubles in a meet that had six singles matches and three doubles contests. Shank and Steinke did not enjoy their singles experience.
"It was the worst experience of my life," Shank said.
"It made me mad," Steinke added. "It was so boring, and tennis is supposed to be fun. I told my coach I'm never doing that again."
Steinke has been playing tennis off and on since third grade, while Shank just took up the sport as a freshman.
The two became friends in eighth grade and Steinke convinced Shank to give tennis a try.
They were not immediately paired together.
"The first couple meets freshman year we had different partners, then they put us together, and it stuck," Steinke said.
"When they put me with Grace, we just started clicking," Shank said.
They quickly developed a system.
"We made it so I always played baseline and she always played net," Steinke said. "She was always better at net, and I was always better back."
Reynolds changed their ways.
"When we got to varsity, Kelly kind of yelled at us for doing it," Steinke said.
Shank and Steinke by the numbers
As freshmen: Won Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference fresh-soph doubles title
As sophomores: Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference fresh-soph doubles runners-up
As juniors: 14-12 as No. 1 varsity doubles team