It’s a feeling that is all too familiar for South Whidbey boys tennis sophomore Kody Newman. Now his teammates, doubles team Ryan Wenzek and Hank Papritz, share his pain.
Wenzek and Papritz, both juniors, are alternates to the Class 1A boys tennis state championships after finishing third in the League and Bi-District Tournament on Oct. 21-22 at Amy Yee Tennis Center in Seattle. Just as Newman did last season, when he went from being an alternate to a state placer, Wenzek and Papritz will have to wait until spring to see whether or not they will have an opportunity to play in the state tournament. Due to weather constraints, teams in Eastern Washington play their boys tennis season in springtime.
While the duo are in limbo, they are not discouraged. Wenzek was proud of the fact that a pair from South Whidbey could compete with athletes who have been in tennis clubs for years and sometimes have professional coaching.
“That was the most encouraging thing that we can go out there and play with them,” Wenzek said.
South Whidbey tied for third in the Emerald City League with Seattle Academy. The Falcons finished the season 9-5 overall and 7-5 in league. University Prep won both the league and the Bi-District tournament, while Overlake finished second.
Newman, competing against a tough bracket of returning state placers, finished fourth in singles and is second state alternate. Newman was a state alternate in 2015 but was bumped into the tournament when another player opted out to compete in a national tournament. He went on to place fourth in state as a freshman.
Other Falcon competitors in the tournament included freshman singles player Levi Buck — the youngest athlete on varsity — and doubles tandem Aengus Dubendorf and Ari Rohan, but all were eliminated after losing in the opening round.
South Whidbey head coach Karyle Kramer said there is a chance that one more berth to state for the Bi-District may come in spring. If team rosters are smaller for those squads, more berths could be added for teams in Western Washington.
“In March, we’ll find out whether we have another allocation or not,” Kramer said. “Or there’s a chance they can go as alternates, because a lot can happen between now and May.”
Overall, Kramer said the Falcons’ performance in the tournament was the best she’s seen in the last half-decade.
“I think it was the best tournament for boys that we’ve had since we’ve been coaching,” Kramer said. “It’s a very tough Bi-District.”
She also said Wenzek and Papritz made the biggest strides of any players on the team this season.
“Hank and Ryan turned a corner and it was exciting to see,” Kramer said. “I think more than anything those guys realized they could play at that level.”
After winning their quarterfinal match, Wenzek and Papritz put a scare on the top-ranked doubles team in the state in University Prep’s Jasen Mansfield and Christian Keaunui in the semifinals. Papritz and Wenzek led the first set 5-2 before their opponents whittled away the deficit, winning 7-6. Mansfield and Keaunui had a better showing in the second set and won 6-2.
Despite losing, Papritz and Wenzek walked away with confidence knowing they had given the best doubles team in 1A a run for their money.
“We had nothing to lose,” Wenzek said.
The tandem dropped to the consolations, where they lost to University Prep’s second doubles team, Josh Wah-Blumberg and Parker Sand-Trent Mosier, 6-3, 6-0.
The duo won their next match 6-3, 7-6 over Overlake’s Kevin Gartland and Quinn Clelland to stay alive in the tournament. Their toughest match came against Overlake’s top doubles team, Wesley Chan and Alex Horvat, in a battle that would decide who would be alternates to state. Horvat and Chan “handily” beat Papritz and Wenzek 6-2, 6-3 in a league match the week prior. Papritz and Wenzek said they wore their opponents out and grinded away a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory.
“I think that was the best part of the tournament for me,” Wenzek said.
Papritz said one of the biggest hurdles the pair had to overcome this season was themselves.
“We have this mental block where we don’t think we’re on the same level as they are,” Papritz said.
The tournament was proof that they can compete.