Sports

Falcon tennis players prepare for state finals

Freshman Riley Newman returns a serve last October during the final regular season match against Sehome. Newman qualified for state finals in Seattle on May 23-24. - Jeff VanDerford / Record file
Freshman Riley Newman returns a serve last October during the final regular season match against Sehome. Newman qualified for state finals in Seattle on May 23-24.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / Record file

The season for most of the South Whidbey tennis team is over and, for the most part, the community has taken over the high school courts.

But for Lindsey Newman, Victoria Comfort, Nicole Zalewski and Riley Newman - and their coach, Tom Kramer - there is one more net to overcome: state finals at the Nordstrom Tennis Center, May 23-24 on the University of Washington campus.

Kramer's been there, done that.

"The individual or team that calms down the fastest usually ends up winning," he told his athletes.

"It's a question of nerves, the ability to perform under pressure against the best tennis players in the state," he added.

One of those "best" is Lynden's Erica Bosman, who was runner-up to last year's 2A girl's state champion, Newman. The girls will meet again.

Newman beat Bosman in two straight sets at home last month but lost in three at districts 6-4, 4-6 and 5-7 in a match lasting more than two hours May 10 at Sehome.

"I don’t think I played well and Erica took full advantage," Newman said.

"This is her senior year, she had a big fan base and was very motivated. I know she'll come to state ready to play," Newman said.

"Erica played a very intense, quality match and Lindsey was not in top form," Kramer added.

Newman said getting her serve back on course is a top priority plus, of course, driving the ball to the right spot.

Last year's first- and second-place finishers in singles and doubles are going back to state but Zalewski and Comfort will be newcomers.

"It's awesome, what we’ve worked for all year," Zalewski said of her qualification for state in doubles at Sehome.

"Doubles works for me because it's more of a social experience," she said. "Victoria and I can strategize or, when necessary, help each other shake off a lost point."

She said their three of four victories at Sehome to clinch the state berth came from being more aggressive.

"And there was more at stake," she said. "This week, we're working on lobs and trying for all-around consistency. The coach preaches that to us and, you know, he's right."

Comfort said that having a partner on the court really helps to get her pumped up. "Between every point, Nicole likes to talk and get us going," she said. "And when we win, it's fun to share the glory."

Comfort added that now the real preparation begins.

"Putting the balls away at the net, setting my partner up and working on short, angled shots across the court are the focus," she said.

For the first time in Kramer’s 30 years as South Whidbey's tennis coach, a freshman will represent the school at state.

Riley Newman took second place at district finals Oct. 19, losing only to Sehome’s Will Topp 6-4, 6-4. It was the only loss of the season for Newman.

It's been months since the boys tennis season ended and Newman has a lot on his plate. Because so much time has gone by, he has the hardest challenge of the four.

And he knows it.

"I've been exercising in the gym and went to a tennis drop-in program on the mainland pretty much every Sunday," he said. "The coach and Mrs. [assistant coach Nancy] Ricketts have been helping me on new serving procedures," he said. "I'm looking forward to the experience."

Newman said the coach advised him to finish his matches early, get off the court and head to the next match.

“I’ll have four in two days and it’s best to move right along,” Newman said.

Kramer is keeping one eye on his players, the other on long-term weather predictions.

The coach won’t make excuses but admitted rain delays from the lousy spring weather has hampered training efforts so far.

“We ended up having nine matches in 10 days just before districts, so every minute counts now,” he said.

The boys will play inside at Seattle, the girls outside — if it rains, the girls will be dispersed to whatever inside court is available.

Kramer said that having the right mental attitude is a key component to success at state.

“You can’t go to an event like this and think good things are going to happen; you’ve got to prepare,” he said. “Everyone needs to bring their ‘A’ game to be competitive.”

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