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U-Hi unfazed by day delay

Sat., March 24, 2012

Young tennis team makes most of time wet weather brings

University High School was scheduled to open the Greater Spokane League tennis schedule Thursday at home against the visiting Shadle Park Highlanders. So, of course, Thursday morning dawned with a fluffy blanket of snow a couple inches deep.

Welcome to the wonderful world of spring sports in greater Spokane, where the motto is: If the weather isn’t inclement enough for you now, just wait five minutes.

A league schedule? It’s generally obsolete between the time you press print and when the paper comes out. Thursday’s matches were rescheduled for Friday.

“We don’t talk about it,” girls coach Julene Osborn said, explaining her approach to the weather. Talking about it might jinx things more than normal. “We don’t discuss it. We don’t say anything out loud.”

Thus far this spring, coaches have had to deal with snow, hail, rain, more rain and more snow. Wind, which has gusted hard at times, is just an inconvenience.

Now in her 10th season at University, Osborn is adept at dealing with the weather, frustrating as it is. The courts at U-Hi generally clear off faster than most in the area – a fact she attributes to the aforementioned winds that buffet the school.

“The courts are like the streets – they melt faster than the ground does,” Osborn said. “It holds the heat and the snow melts pretty fast. At the start of turnouts a few of us went out and broke up the ice layer that was out there. Once the ice broke up, it melted away pretty fast and we were the first ones able to get outside to practice.”

The school can squeegee the playing surface to get most of the water off, she explained. But nature has to take care of that last little bit before teams can use the court.

“If we get just a little break and have a couple hours before we’re supposed to play, we can get the courts ready,” Osborn said. “We need some sun or some wind to help us, though.”

Still, the coach said, it gets pretty frustrating.

“We haven’t had a week yet where we’ve been able to practice outside the whole time,” Osborn said. “We’ve had to practice in the gym at least one or two days.”

The coach has a couple indoor nets and some practice balls designed for indoors, and she has the team work on fundamentals and conditioning.

“It’s not the same as actually playing,” she said. “But it’s fairly close. You can always work on your stroke, and conditioning is still conditioning.”

Osborn said she’s worked out who will play where on the U-Hi varsity despite the lack of cooperation from Mother Nature. Her singles ladder always is the first to take shape.

“Once we figure out who’s going to play singles, I can start putting doubles teams together,” she said. “We’re going to be pretty young this year, because half of my varsity is going to be made up of freshmen. I have a big freshman class coming in and they’ve done a nice job of getting themselves ready to compete at the high school level.”

Osborn studies the middle school tennis rosters to get familiar with top players.

“This year I know most of these freshmen really well,” she said. “My son is a freshman this year and he’s grown up playing tennis with a lot of these kids. I know what they’ve learned and how they’ve been taught because my son has gone through the same process with them.”

This group of freshmen, however, has done more than most incoming classes to prepare to challenge for spots on the Titans’ varsity ladder.

A year ago the Titans dominated Greater Spokane League Class 3A tennis, grabbing every spot, singles and doubles, into the regional tournament.

Hannah Nichols, who played No. 2 singles for University all through the regular GSL season, knocked off senior Caylee Lamm, the regular season No. 1 singles player, for the district championship, 7-6, 7-5, in a three-hour marathon match.

Nichols, who had just one loss heading into the Class 3A regional tournament, also won the No. 2 singles title at the Inland Empire tourney.

Lauren Archibald and Jessie Barth knocked off teammates Maddie Walsh and Stephany Le to win the district doubles title and became the first state tournament competitors for Osborn. The pair won their first match at state before running into the eventual state champions from Bainbridge High School in the quarterfinals.

Nichols returns to play No. 1 singles this season.

An all-GSL first team selection a year ago, Barth returns to play half of the No. 1 doubles team.

“We’ve pretty well sorted things out already,” Osborn said. “The good thing is that I don’t have to get it exactly right – I just need to get the kids sorted out and then let them play their challenge matches to sort themselves out.”

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