Sports

Different Kramer takes over for this rebuilding year | FALCON SPORTS PREVIEW

Cameron Baldwin returns a backhand during a recent practice. He’s one of five juniors on a team  without seniors, and is expected to help lead the team.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Cameron Baldwin returns a backhand during a recent practice. He’s one of five juniors on a team without seniors, and is expected to help lead the team.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

There’s a new, yet familiar Kramer leading the boys tennis program.

Tom Kramer resigned in August from coaching boys tennis after 35 years. The transition will be as seamless as possible with the new coach — Karyle Kramer, his daughter.

“We had a good start,” she said. “It’s been close to what I expected.”

“It’s a rebuilding year.”

This may be her first year coaching South Whidbey boys tennis, but she has varsity coaching experience. She also created and maintained the tennis program for South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District, something she now sees returns from in the skills of the freshmen on the team.

“I don’t think they’re going to be typical freshmen,” Kramer said. “In terms of talent and ability, they’ll be more like sophomores.”

The Falcon boys tennis team lost its top three singles players to graduation and its top doubles team to injuries. While that may leave some coaches in fits, it suits Kramer just fine.

“It’s definitely a clean slate,” she said.

Freshmen and sophomores are expected to aid the team’s success this season. The varsity team will be fluid through the year. Singles players will have chances to compete in doubles, and vice versa, and junior varsity athletes may be brought up to the varsity team. Seeds were not set as of the week before the first match against Friday Harbor at South Whidbey on Sept. 7.

One reason for the repositioning is Kramer’s coaching style — she wants to develop talent, rather than assume it exists. She said one benefit of having a large group of freshmen is that they don’t have preconceived notions of how to be coached or how to play high school tennis. They are hers for the molding.

The varsity team, Kramer said, will consist of all five juniors, four sophomores and one freshman. Two of those juniors — Guy Sparkman and Kyle Simchuk — were voted team co-captains by their teammates.

Sparkman is the closest player to having a guaranteed spot. As fourth singles last season, he moved up the chart because the first, second and third singles players graduated.

“The loss of Riley Newman, Zach Comfort, Van Morgen and Harrison Price is a huge blow to our team,” Sparkman said. “We have big shoes to fill. But with the large number of underclassmen that we have, I think we can have a good season this year and later on.”

He said he has to improve his serve to compete in the cobbled corps of opponents from District 1. The league is comprised of two conferences: Northwest and Cascade. The past few 2A state champions played at schools in the Northwest Conference. Playing against Anacortes, Bellingham and Burlington-Edison will be adequate markers of the talent required to win a district and state match, Kramer said.

Simchuk played doubles last year and assumed he’d resume that spot, though the seed — first, second or third doubles — was unclear. He said his goal is to improve on his previous district performance.

Both captains agreed they have a charge to bring the underclassmen into the fold.

“It’s going to be important getting the team together, since we’re going to have a lot of younger kids coming up to the varsity level, getting them together and being more of a team,” Sparkman said.

Simchuk said his leadership role is to include the freshmen and make what is typically an individual sport feel like a team game.

“We switch it up during warm-ups where the varsity guys will go work with the JV guys or the freshmen, and really play with them so they get used to playing with people of different skill levels,” Simchuk said.

He saw the loss of Price and Comfort as a chance to show South Whidbey’s opponents they have a roster loaded with talent.

“The team goal this season: proving everybody wrong,” Simchuk said. “A lot of people are expecting less of us this year.”

“I see a strong freshmen force coming in. As they grow up, they’re going to be better tennis players.”

Kramer said she was pleased with the leadership Simchuk and Sparkman display at practices.

“I couldn’t be happier with the juniors as far as setting the tone,” she said.

Being a rebuilding year — acknowledged by coaches and players, alike — means the team isn’t concerned with sending someone to state or winning every match. Instead, Kramer will establish a system of improvement and progress.

“With me being new, and with over half of our team being new, it’s hard to base our goals off of last season,” Kramer said. “We are focusing on general improvement — everybody learning singles and doubles, I think, will make us stronger as a team in the future.”

To assist with the transition, assistant coach Nancy Ricketts returned to the boys team. Kramer and Ricketts have a long history together; they’ve been friends since elementary school.

“She’s a good coach, period,” Kramer said of Ricketts. “I’m grateful she was willing to stay on.”

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