No love: Falcon tennis fails to qualify for state tournament

South Whidbey’s Chase Collins serves during the District 1 2A boys tennis tournament in Bellingham on Saturday.  - Tim Collins photo
South Whidbey’s Chase Collins serves during the District 1 2A boys tennis tournament in Bellingham on Saturday.
— image credit: Tim Collins photo

For the first time in several years, South Whidbey will miss the state boys tennis tournament in May.

The Falcons sent three singles players and three doubles teams to vie for the top two spots in each, and came away with learned lessons, but not berths. Only freshman Noah Frank and doubles team Guy Sparkman and Charley Stelling advanced to the second round of the district tournament in Bellingham on Saturday.

“We had some season best-performances, some comebacks and the to-be-expected mental letdowns that pair with inexperience,” said Falcon head coach Karyle Kramer.

“With three freshmen, one sophomore and five juniors representing South Whidbey High School this weekend, we have the opportunity to return next year with more experience on our side.”

Frank defeated Bellingham senior Riley Fulton 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. They had played earlier this season, and Fulton won in two sets.

“He hit his groundstrokes with a relaxed follow through, which helped them land deep on the other side,” Kramer said. “This kept Fulton on the defensive and allowed Noah to control the pace of the points.”

In the second round, Jared Wigen from Anacortes beat Frank, 6-0, 6-0. They played each other last week, and Wigen won in straight sets.

After the three-set rally Frank played earlier, Kramer said he didn’t have much energy left.

“I wanted Noah to get in there and fight, to dig deep and find a way to string some point together and win some games,” Kramer said. “He definitely can play with Wigen, and he proved it last week by winning six games against him. But Noah was out of gas mentally and physically.”

Kramer said she hopes the experience encourages her team to play several matches in one day during the offseason.

“Hopefully Noah and all the players will put themselves in those situations in the offseason,” she said. “Playing multiple matches in a day becomes a physical and mental endurance test. The players who do it often usually find themselves in the winners’ bracket.”

The Falcons’ other win came from Sparkman and Stelling. They defeated Sehome’s Steve Brugge and Ben Carroll, 6-2, 6-3. Victory’s thrill was almost prolonged against the number-two seeded team from Bellingham, Auden Schilder and Shane Miller.

Sparkman, a junior, and Stelling, a freshman, pushed the Red Raiders team to three sets, losing 4-6, 6-3, 4-6.

“The other team truly won the match on winners, not on our errors,” Kramer said. “The difference was a few points here and there. Over the two matches and five sets Charley and Guy played together, it was overall the most consistent, best tennis they have played together, or individually. They just rose to the occasion. What else can you ask for?”

The other Falcons’ singles matches had strong first sets before wilting in the second. Falcon junior Taylor Simmons lost to Squalicum’s Carter Thulin 6-7 (4-7 tiebreaker), 1-6.

“Taylor played true to form in his first set — he didn’t give his opponent any freebies,” Kramer said. “Taylor scrambles and often gets to everything; he’s like the nightmare opponent.”

The third singles player for the Falcons, Cameron Baldwin, lost to Bellingham’s Sam Ferguson 5-7, 2-6.

The singles and doubles matches were split between Sehome High School and Western Washington University. It made for a long day for South Whidbey’s coaches. All of the Falcons’ first-round matches began at 1:30 p.m., so junior varsity coach Nancy Ricketts and Kramer were separated most of the day and regularly texted scores to each other.

“At one point coach Ricketts texted that all three singles matches were at 5-5 in the first set,” Kramer said. “It was a fast-paced day.

The other doubles teams also challenged their opponents in the first round.

Chase Collins and Kyle Simchuk, both juniors, lost to Bellingham’s Chad Cheldelin and Dustin Watson 2-6, 6-7 (0-7). Collins and Simchuk trailed 2-5 in the second set before forcing a set tiebreaker.

“It would have been so easy for them to have folded, to have lost one more game and been done with it,” Kramer said.

“They did not give up, however, and the tide turned. Not only did Kyle and Chase go all out with their serves and volleys, but the Bellingham players found themselves in the ‘what is happening’ stage which resulted in more errors on their part.”

The youngest Falcon partnership of freshmen Jack Hood and Jonathon Peterson lost to a team from Lynden’s Noah Likkel and Mikal Olson, 5-7, 1-6.

A team filled with inexperience this year, Kramer expects it to benefit from the district tournament experience.

“I have a feeling next season we will be more competitive — both within our own lineup and at the district tournament,” she said.

In the week prior to the district tournament, Anacortes ended South Whidbey’s regular season with a loss. The Seagulls beat the Falcons 6-1.

South Whidbey’s only winner was Simmons at third singles. He defeated Matt Irving 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.

“Taylor played against a kid who moves just like him — quickly and with great anticipation,” Kramer said.

“They had rallies in which they each thought they had a winner, and against most players the shots would have been clean winners. But both Taylor and Matt surprised the other by running down shot after shot.”

“It was a great win for Taylor,” she added.

In the other singles matches, the Falcons failed to win a set.

Frank lost to Jared Wigen, 4-6, 2-6. At second singles, Baldwin lost to Michael Kim, 1-6, 1-6. In the final singles match, Nathan Riley lost to Kevin Xue 6-7 (4-7), 4-6.

The doubles matches were also won in straight sets for Anacortes.

Sparkman, the Falcons’ co-captain, and Hayden Nichols lost to Tristan Massey and Caleb Wigen 4-6, 4-6. The pair of Falcon juniors led 3-0 in the first set before losing. Kramer continued to tweak the lineup and paired Simchuk and Stelling, who lost to Brant Johnson and Campbell Torres 4-6, 1-6. Hood and Peterson lost to Riley Ochs and Alec Phillips 3-6, 2-6.

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