Playing in the Emerald City League is both a blessing and a curse for South Whidbey’s boys tennis team.
The Falcons face top-notch competition throughout the season as several private schools from the league are typically in the running for class 1A state championships, which some players consider an opportunity to test their mettle against the best. But, working against South Whidbey is the fact that there are only two berths available to move on to the state championships.
Seniors Ryan Wenzek and Hank Papritz, the Falcons’ top doubles team, know this all too well. The duo finished third in the 2016 Bi-District Tournament and were alternates to state, while the University Prep team they lost to during the tournament finished second in state.
Wenzek and Papritz had another crack at University Prep’s Jasen Mansfield and Christian Keaunui during a home match on Sept. 11. The Falcons narrowly lost 6-4, 6-4, where unforced errors on the part of Wenzek and Papritz proved to be the difference maker. It was a big confidence boost for the doubles team that has only one loss so far this season.
“I think skill-wise, we have them, like we’re pretty equal,” Wenzek said. “They just have more experience and they’ve played more matches.”
Papritz added that mental fortitude is something they’ll need to develop if they’re going to beat them later in the season.
“We know that we can play to their level, but we can’t always be there, and it’s hard to stay focused for such a long time,” Papritz said.
South Whidbey is 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the league, with wins over Archbishop Murphy, Bear Creek, Bush and Coupeville. Following their match against Seattle Academy on Sept. 26, the Falcons will play their league opponents for the second time. The regular season wraps up with a home match against Coupeville at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16.
Wenzek and Papritz took a small break from doubles play following the University Prep match while Papritz played singles.
The Falcons’ top singles player, sophomore Levi Buck, is still adjusting to his role and the stiff competition in the league. He was the Falcons’ No. 2 singles player in 2016, but he has noticed there’s quite a difference between the two.
“It’s a lot of fun. There’s some pressure, but there’s always going to be pressure,” Buck said. “You got to have fun. Win or lose, it’s about being on a team.”
“They’re (the Emerald City League) very tough,” he added.
Buck, who is 1-2 overall, said he didn’t play well at the start of the season. He has since improved his intensity and desire to win. He’s hoping that those two factors, among other things, will help propel him through the second half of the season.
Papritz echoed Buck’s sentiments about the strain of playing singles, adding that he also isn’t keen for the stress that comes with being a singles player; he prefers playing doubles.
“I didn’t really like the pressure in singles,” Papritz said. “There’s more pressure because you’re hitting all the shots. But, it was cool to try. I got to play some new players.”
Wenzek played with Buck and senior Larsen Christiansen while Papritz was playing singles. He said that while Buck and Christiansen were more than competent teammates, he’s developed a chemistry with Papritz that is hard to replicate with others.
“It was kind of weird, because I’ve never played with anyone other than Hank in doubles,” Wenzek said. “I kind of missed him.”
“There’s just a click to Hank and I,” he added.
Now that they are reunited, Papritz and Wenzek have their eyes set on advancing to the state championships. It won’t be an easy task with doubles teams like University Prep’s Mansfield and Keaunui standing in their way, but they know they’re capable of giving them a run for their money.
“We played super well against Coupeville last week and we’re playing really well right now,” Wenzek said. “We’re working on a couple specific things, but other than that, we’re playing our best games that I think we can. I think we’re gonna give a shot at state.”
News emerged this past week that Cascade Conference teams King’s and Cedar Park Christian are applying to transfer to the Emerald City League. It’s also within the realm of possibilities that South Whidbey could follow suit. Wenzek provided perspective from what he’s experienced over the past three when asked what he would think about the rest of the Falcon teams playing in the league. He said that while the team sports could improve as a whole, there’s a chance that the postseason could be a struggle.
“Hank and I are a state-level team and we haven’t gone,” Wenzek said. “It’s just hard. I think if we go in that league, a lot less state participants are going to come out. Our school would get better, but we wouldn’t be placing at state.”