Kody Newman jumped with excitement when he heard the news.
The freshman had been notified by South Whidbey boys tennis head coach Karyle Kramer that he would be playing in the class 1A boys state championships May 27-28 at Yakima Tennis Center, after spending the past several months in limbo as a state alternate.
Newman won three of his four matches at the state championships to place fourth. His only loss was at the hands of La Salle’s Sean Singco in the quarterfinals. He defeated Travis Ste. Marie of Lind-Ritzville-Sprague, 6-3, 6-3, in the first round of the tournament. Following his loss to Singco, Newman beat Cashmere’s Tyler Kert 6-4, 7-5. He claimed fourth when he defeated Caeleb Hardesty of Tonasket, 6-2, 7-6.
Newman joins several of his other siblings who have placed at tennis state tournaments. He even matched his older brother — Riley — who placed fourth his freshman year and went on to win a state title the following year. The gravity of the accomplishment sunk in after Newman beat Kert. As the youngest of six siblings, Newman has had to wait for his chance in the spotlight.
“I shook the guy’s hand and looked up at my mom and saw my mom crying,” Newman said. “I knew I was fitting in with the family. It just felt good to get that underneath my chest because I had been worrying about for so long.”
Newman replaced Seattle Academy’s Anders Gibbons, who elected to forgo state and compete in a national tournament. It was an opportunity that breathed new life into Newman.
“When I went to state, I knew that it was maybe like a calling or a sign that like, ‘Your season isn’t over yet and you have to finish hard,’ ” Newman said. “To get three out of four, I was just really proud of myself. There was nothing else I could have done. I played great matches, played against some good players. I was just really happy with myself.”
Newman had been playing on the Falcons’ boys soccer team when Kramer told him he would be competing. Though he knew it meant he would have to split time between soccer and tennis, Newman was eager to relinquish his feelings of disappointment after finishing third in the bi-district tournament in October. Due to Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association rules, postseason play is conducted in spring, while the regular season is in the fall.
“It just shook me hard because I felt like I was disappointing the name,” Newman said. “Then I got the news and you just go back on the tennis grind.”
Newman practiced regularly in the weeks leading up to the tournament. His excitement of being added to the tournament coupled with his frustration from his bi-district finish led Newman into his first match against Ste. Marie full of energy.
“I just came out strong because it was my first match, I had a lot of energy,” Newman said. “I knew I had to get the win because the next match would be hard. I just came out hitting hard, came to the net and hit good, deep balls. I was just playing good tennis.”
Despite losing to Singco in the quarterfinals handily, Newman stayed positive.
“I knew if I got in my mind and I got negative about it, it wouldn’t help my game at all the next game,” Newman said. “I knew I had to stay positive and make sure I got that next win. The past is in the past and I just had to look forward to the next match and just keep my head up and play my game.”
He faced Kert in a loser-out match. Kert was coming off a three-set match in the quarterfinals, so Newman’s strategy was to keep Kert on his toes and wear him down. Newman won the first set, but his efforts in slowing down Kert slackened in the second set. Newman became too comfortable in the match and quickly corrected it by mixing up his shots and attacks.
“He came out strong that second set and I just knew I had to finish it,” Newman said. “I just played hard that second set. We had really long games; we had a lot of deuce points.”
By the time he reached the placing match, Newman was accustomed to reading his opponents’ body language.
“My last match, my guy was always just shrugging around, head down, always banging his racket,” Newman said. “It just gave me more confidence.”
“Of course I get frustrated after a few points, but you just got to shake it off and go to that next point,” he added.
Kramer said Newman played the best tennis he’d played all season, and felt he developed his mental toughness in the years he practiced against his brothers and sisters on the court.
“His whole life he’s had to figure out strategies to beat his older siblings,” Kramer said. “He’s had to think on the court and that’s what he does best. That is his weapon.”
Kramer said Newman’s strategic prowess was especially evident in his third and fourth matches of the tournament.
“He was fighting for those points and he was doing so because he had to outsmart the player repeatedly,” Kramer said.
Newman’s goals for next season include securing an outright berth to the state tournament and placing higher than fourth.
“Every little thing in my game can be improved,” Newman said. “It’s going to be a hard offseason, good regular season and even harder postseason.”