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SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW | Girls tennis sights set on state tournament
LANGLEY — The road to state is through Bellingham, and the Falcon girls tennis team knows it.
They’ll either have to beat players from Bellingham or Sehome high school to advance to the 2A state tournament in May. Last year, only one Falcon qualified — junior Hayley Newman. A couple teams were close, but fell in the District 1 qualifier.
“I really, really want to go to state this year,” said senior Jessica Cary.
Cary was one set away from qualifying in doubles with her partner, who graduated last spring. Her status between singles and doubles was still in question.
Players should get used to playing both, though. Coach Karyle Kramer was hired to replace her father Tom Kramer who resigned after more than 30 years with the girls tennis team. Her coaching style varies a little, and namely in her approach to the division between a singles or a doubles player. That mindset also translates to the separation from junior varsity to varsity.
“She really stresses being able to play singles and doubles,” Cary said. “We’ve mingled more with JV to get the whole team united.”
Last year, singles players Kalie Stayskal and Amelia Weeks partnered for the district doubles tournament. It was a sudden change for Stayskal and Weeks, who were previously only singles players. The experience showed Stayskal there were benefits to playing with a partner that could translate to singles.
“I learned to work with other people because you have to talk a lot and you have to set up and do strategies,” Stayskal said.
In addition to sending one player to the state tournament last year, the Falcons finished with a 5-3 record. All five wins were against Cascade Conference teams (only Granite Falls and Coupeville fielded girls tennis teams last year). The Falcons’ three losses were against Northwest Conference teams Anacortes, Bellingham and Sehome. Anacortes and Sehome both narrowly won 4-3. Part of the battle for the Falcons will be believing they can win.
“If we play aggressive and don’t let them get in our heads, we’ll be OK,” Cary said.
The Falcon girls tennis program did not have cuts this year. Kramer said she wanted to develop girls, rather than turn them away because they weren’t in the top 10 for varsity. The youth tennis coach said though she returned a handful of varsity talent, the other six or so spots were wide open for new players to prove themselves.
“There are definitely some strong returning players,” Kramer said.
“It’s not necessarily set that last year’s top players will be this year’s top players.”
With a week to go before their first match, the Falcons had not set the lineup. Given Newman’s successful shift to singles last season, it’s likely she’ll return as the top player. Cary, a four-year tennis player, was on the top doubles team last year, and her height and net game can keep her there.
“I’m more of an aggressive person at the net, I really like to be there for those shots,” Cary said. “Whoever gets to the net wins the point.”
Progressing within the Falcon tennis program was a common experience among the seniors. Both Cary and Stayskal were first-time tennis players as freshmen. Now, they’re team leaders and vying for the top spots and a state tournament berth.
“Starting out from not playing, and seeing how much it’s a part of me is cool,” said Stayskal, who coached youth tennis programs during the summer.
South Whidbey’s season begins (weather-permitting) at Bellingham on March 12. The first home match is against Granite Falls at 3:30 p.m. Friday, March 16. Oh, and the state tournament is May 25-26 at the University of Washington.