Falcons join private school-laden conference

Falcons senior varsity player Loel Nichols serves a ball during practice.

South Whidbey is the odd man out in the Emerald City League.

The Falcons boys tennis team will compete as the only public school in its first year with the seven-team league that boasts private schools such as Archbishop Murphy, Seattle Academy, University Prep and Bear Creek.

And it won’t be easy.

“It’s going to be a challenge, we know that,” said head coach Karyle Kramer. “I’m not really a coach who sets goals like a percentage of wins. We don’t know what’s realistic. We know that they’re going to be very good — they always are. Lots of new players come into their program.”

In preparation for the season, Kramer has emphasized the mental aspects of the game. Rather than focus efforts on improving technique, Kramer has been pushing the players to not only maintain their composure on the courts, but also be aware that a negative attitude may yield negative impacts on their play. The philosophy is bigger than just tennis, Kramer says, because it can have lasting impacts on the players’ lives.

“If we can teach them how to be strong on the tennis court mentally, that carries over,” Kramer said. “We try to make it really clear; the carry over here is how do you respond in the classroom or how do you respond to a friend. It’s strengthening their mental game but also their confidence as young men. We are being more deliberate this year with it. They’re aware of their composure and aware of how they respond to a frustrating point.”

Sophomore varsity player Aengus Dubendorf has caught on to Kramer’s teachings and applied it firsthand. During practice, Dubendorf was beating one of his teammates when his lead started to slip.

“I started working on the 16-second strategy (Kramer) was talking to us about,” he said. “It’s just basically if you’re getting caught up on and starting to freak out about the game, just try to kind of calm yourself down by doing a few things like putting your racket in your opposite hand so the other hand can get not as tense.”

Dubendorf hasn’t set any personal goals for the season other than to get to know his team better and fine-tune his technique with serves.

“I’m really excited for this season,” Dubendorf said. “I feel it’s going to go well. We’re in a good league and we have some really good players.”

Though the league is tough, Kramer says there are benefits to the situation as well.

“Our kids are going to get exposure to indoor facilities which none of the public schools have,” Kramer said. “That will help us when we get to postseason play. Our district tournament is held indoors and sometimes state. Some of our kids have never played indoors before.”

The Falcons play their first match against Seattle Academy at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 8 at Volunteer Park in Seattle.