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Seasoned players

Sat., March 19, 2011

Titan coach, team seek a trip to state as they move to 3A

In the spring, Julene Osborn likes to read weather reports. The rest of the year she may watch the report on the evening news, but right now, that’s just not good enough.

“If you read the weather reports online, you get an hour-by-hour idea of what it’s going to do,” she explained. “On television, they just tell you it’s going to rain today. That doesn’t help me that much. It could rain in the morning and clear up in the afternoon. That’s what I need to know.”

Osborn is in her ninth season as girls tennis coach at University High School and beginning her first as coach of the defending Greater Spokane League champions. Knowing what Mother Nature has in mind for the hours between 2:30 and 5 p.m. has a direct bearing on how she plans a workout – and when you have more than 50 tennis players to coach, planning is a major part of the operation.

This season, she said, has been particularly challenging.

“I think what makes it so frustrating is that we were teased with nice weather for a while,” she said. “But now that we’re practicing, it’s turned nasty again. But every year is challenging in one way or another.”

Osborn lost her No. 3 singles player and half of her No. 1 doubles team from last year’s championship squad, but so far the team has been forced indoors for much of the first few weeks of the spring season.

“I have indoor balls and we’ve been doing drills designed for indoor practice,” she said. “We can work on technique indoors. But obviously we’d much rather be outdoors. We’re fortunate because our courts dry very quickly. If we have an hour of dry weather, especially if we have a little wind, the courts dry off and we can be outside.

“We’re really behind where I would like us to be and behind where we were this time last year.”

With 50 girls out for a program that does not make cuts, getting everyone on a court for practice takes planning.

“We have everyone broken down into three groups so we can get them all on a court,” Osborn said. “And we have Saturday practices. We get a nice Saturday and we can get a lot of work done.

“A lot of what we know about our players is based on where they were last year, but you do get an idea of where they are, even indoors. You can tell which players have worked on their game and have come back stronger. And we keep pretty good tabs on the middle schools, so we have a good idea where our incoming freshmen are before they get here.”

Fortunately, the losses from last year’s league championship team were few.

No. 1 singles player Caylee Lamm returns and, with the school’s drop to Class 3A this year, should be the player to beat for the Class 3A championship.

Returning in doubles is senior Lauren Archibald, who teamed with then-senior Cailynn Garcia to win the 4A District doubles tournament and just missed out on a state tournament berth a year ago.

“I’m still trying to figure out who will play where for doubles this year,” said Olson, who was named GSL Coach of the Year for her efforts a year ago. “For singles, I pretty much have my ladder worked out and I’m kind of going by that quite a bit. But since we lost just one doubles player, there probably won’t be a whole lot of changes.

“One of our real strengths as a program is our depth. In fact, that’s what won us the league championship last year. We were tied going into the final match, and it all came down to our No. 3 doubles team. I’m so proud of how they put all that out of their minds and went out and won their match and got us the title.”

The Titans are by far the favorites to earn the No. 1 seed from the district, and Olson feels this year’s team stands the best chance of accomplishing the one thing that has eluded her during her tenure: sending a team to state.

“Last year was the closest I’ve come to getting a team into the state tournament and that was in doubles,” she said. “I think Class 3A is still going to be a tough division, but now you don’t have to contend with all those big Class 4A schools from the other side of the state – the ones that dominate year in and year out.”

University hasn’t been shut out of state honors. In fact, the Titans boast a three-time state champion in Sharon Fletcher, who won the state singles title in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

The Titans open the GSL season next week.

Olson will get the chance to assess her team’s tournament readiness in two major events. The first is the annual Tri-Cities Invitational in mid-April. The Inland Empire tournament rolls around just before the start of the postseason tournament season.

“Those are always a big plus for us,” Olson said. “When you play once a week, you have a lot of time between matches. It’s easier to work on your match skills when you’re playing in a tournament and move from one match to the next.

“And it’s always good for us to see the teams we’re going to have to play in districts and at regionals.”

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