Despite placing fourth at last season’s Class 1A boys tennis state championships, South Whidbey sophomore Kody Newman is unsure whether he’ll have a ticket to this year’s big dance. Two talented players in the Emerald League — the private-school-heavy league the Falcons compete in — stand in his way.
Seattle Academy’s Anders Gibbons, a sophomore who elected to forgo state to compete in a national tournament, and Bear Creek’s Caleb Ji, last year’s state champion, will be Newman’s biggest obstacles. Only the top two players from the league can earn outright berths to the state tournament at the District 1 tournament, while the third place finisher is an alternate. Newman finished third in 2015 and was entered into the tournament after Gibbons opted out. He then battled through a quarterfinal loss and won three out of his four matches at state to place fourth.
Though he faces grim odds when the postseason arrives, Newman will use his experience from 2015’s improbable state run to his advantage. He also hopes to improve by placing higher than fourth at state. Joining him in the mix for berths to the state championships will be five other returning varsity players.
Like the previous season, Falcon head coach Karyle Kramer was hesitant to predict the team’s lineup. Newman has a spot penciled in as a singles player, while junior Ryan Wenzek will also be in the mix for the second singles spot. The rest will be determined as the season progresses and after they become more familiar with the league, Kramer said.
“I think the catch will always be figuring out the best rotation, the best partners and the best mix,” Kramer said.
South Whidbey is the only public school in the seven-team league that features private schools such as Bear Creek, Seattle Academy, Archbishop Murphy and University Prep. Most of the players play year round and benefit from a plethora of nearby indoor facilities, a luxury South Whidbey competitors do not have. They will open the season at home at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday against Seattle Academy. Newman and sophomore Hank Papritz, who competed alongside graduated senior Jacob Nelson on the Falcons’ top singles team last year, are unable to compete. Both are ineligible for the first two matches of the season due to missing part of the preseason due to family obligations.
“We’re in a very strong Emerald City League; they always have good teams,” Kramer said. “All we can do is what we do best and focus on our form, stroke, strategies and basics. I do think we had quite a few guys playing over the summer so that’s good coming in. They’re not rusty.”
Among the veterans are Wenzek and junior Larsen Christensen. Both said they learned a great deal from their experiences last year and are especially cognizant of their mental approach to the game. The duo said they had trouble maintaining their composure during difficult matches. Kramer, like countless other high level coaches in the sport, believes a level-headed approach keeps an athlete prepared for the inevitable momentum swings in matches.
Wenzek and Christensen are finally starting to catch on.
“I’ve definitely been working on that,” Wenzek said. “Last year, I was very emotional. This year, I’ve been focusing not to freak out and just keep your head in the game.”
Christensen said that like Wenzek, he could be easily frustrated during a match. He said the key is bottling up the emotions and not letting them show. There’s always time to decompress and vent after a match is over, he said. Wenzek agreed.
“You just have to wipe the slate clean and throw it away,” Wenzek said.
Both are eager to play Seattle Academy, which is widely considered the best team in the league. Because Newman will be ineligible, Wenzek will likely have a shot to compete with Gibbons.
“They’re a really good team and they’re our rivals,” Wenzek said. “I’m looking forward to playing because I’ll probably be playing No. 1 singles because Hank and Kody are gone.”
2016 Falcon tennis schedule
Tuesday, Sept. 8
Tuesday, Sept. 6
vs. Seattle Academy*
Thursday, Sept. 8
vs. Archbishop Murphy*
Monday, Sept. 12
vs. University Prep
Tuesday, Sept. 13
vs. Bellevue Christian*
Thursday, Sept. 15
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Thursday, Sept. 22
Tuesday, Sept. 27
vs. Seattle Academy
Thursday, Sept. 29
vs. Archbishop Murphy
Tuesday, Oct. 4
vs. University Prep*
Thursday, Oct. 6
vs. Bellevue Christian
Monday, Oct. 10
Thursday, Oct. 13
Monday, Oct. 17
Oct. 21-22 1A Bi-District Boys Tennis Tournament at Amy Yee Tennis Center
* Home match
All varsity matches begin at 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.