Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey senior Hank Papritz returns a volley during a preseason practice this past week.

Tough boys tennis league poses difficult challenge for postseason play | FALL SPORTS PREVIEW

South Whidbey seniors Hank Papritz and Ryan Wenzek received a valuable lesson when they fell one win short of qualifying for the boys tennis state championships in 2016.

The experience of placing third at the bi-district tournament the same year as a doubles team proved that they can hang with the best from the Emerald City League, which has been a thorn in the side for South Whidbey for the past several years as the best tennis league in all of class 1A. They said that losing on the cusp of state provided them both confidence and motivation.

“That’s just been fueling my fire this whole season,” Wenzek said.

It also made them wiser players. Papritz said falling short of state helped establish the need study his opponents more thoroughly. He’ll be on the lookout this season for weak spots to exploit, while also not giving his opponents any opportunities to use their strengths against them.

“I think what kind of taught me was to have a plan before you come into a match,” Papritz said. “The coaches keep telling us that. The mental part is tough.”

“When we mess up and we take ourselves out of the point, there’s no way we’re going to stay in it because they hit way harder than us. We just have to keep the ball in play and make them mess up,” Wenzek added.

The Falcons tied for third in the Emerald City League in 2016 after finishing 9-5 overall and 7-5 in league. They return five of their six starters from this past year’s varsity squad, four of which are seniors. Junior Kody Newman, who placed fourth in the state as a freshman in 2016, is not among them; Newman is playing football this fall after deciding to pursue a different passion, head coach Karyle Kramer said.

“We’ve got five returning, but we also have eight spots for varsity,” Kramer said. “So, three of those spots are going to be filled by players who don’t have much competitive play experience.”

Wenzek admitted that not having Newman will hurt the team overall, as Newman was a sure bet to win most matches, but he expects younger players like sophomore Levi Buck to step up and fill the void.

“He’s playing really well right now, so I put a lot of confidence in him that he’s going perform well,” Wenzek said.

It is difficult to determine how the Falcons will stack up in the league, which is laden with private schools with strong tennis teams, Kramer said.

“Because we’re in a private school league and they get new players every year, it’s always a surprise who they have returning,” Kramer said. “But, what’s not a surprise is the strength of their teams.”

Kramer expects the players who practiced over the summer, like Wenzek, to be a notch above the rest of the team when the season begins on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at Seattle Academy.

Turnout is slightly lower than previous years, but Wenzek is optimistic it well help individual players grow more.

“I like low numbers because it gives us more time with the coaches,” Wenzek said. “I’m excited to see our top varsity (players). We’re gonna do really well.”