May 10, 2014 in Sports

Inland Empire has team aspect that state doesn’t

Steve Christilaw Correspondent

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Last weekend’s Inland Empire tournament did an excellent job of pointing out exactly what’s wrong with the way the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association crowns tennis champions.

High school tennis is a team sport; the WIAA crowns individual champions.

That’s like playing the entire basketball season, then awarding the state title to the best 3-point shooter.

Tennis teams have standout individual players, of course. But having just one outstanding singles player doesn’t make you a good team.

What the state needs, advocates say, is a team tournament.

Lewis and Clark has an outstanding boys tennis team and proved it at the IE tournament. With No. 1 singles player Luke Brittan out studying for his SATs, No. 2 singles player Jordan Strandness played his way into the No. 1 singles finals and the team’s No. 3 singles player, freshman Kyle Fager, won the tourney’s No. 2 singles division.

Along with the singles titles, the Tigers also won the No. 2 doubles division behind the play of Jacob Johnson and Ryan Demars.

“Lewis and Clark may have the best, deepest team in the state this year,” IE tournament director Bill Wagstaff said. “But Richland has the best singles player in the region (Zach Fisher) and that’s enough to block LC.

“(High school) tennis isn’t about having the best singles or doubles player. It’s about having depth – how good is your No. 3 singles player? Your No. 3 doubles team? That’s where LC excels this year – it has incredible depth and you saw that here.”

The IE tourney did not feature the two top singles players in the Greater Spokane League. Along with Brittan sitting out the tournament, No. 1 girls singles player, Ferris freshman Courtney Provan, opted to play mixed doubles with Alex Siok.

West Valley-Yakima’s top singles player, sophomore Chloe Goyette, won the division at the IE.

The thought of the two youngsters meeting for the 4A regional singles crown prompted a lot of raised eyebrows, but few predictions.

Challening conditions

The IE tournament demonstrated just how versatile players must be to play tennis during the spring. Over the years the tourney has provided some significant weather challenges: snow, hail, sleet and wind. This year it was gusty winds that could turn an offensive lob into a sitting duck and a solid forehand into a too-hard smash.

“Playing in wind is a little tougher for the girls than the boys,” Mead girls tennis coach Lynn Coleman said.

“With the boys, they smash the ball and it’s either in or out and you move to the next point. Girls rally more and the wind forces them to have to adjust their shots. If you’re playing into the wind, you have to hit the ball harder and if you have the wind at your back, you have to take something off.

“What’s really tough is playing in side winds. Then you have to shape your shot to adjust to the direction the wind’s blowing.”

State favorites

The prospective favorites to win 2013-14 state singles titles are familiar.

For boys singles, Federal Way senior Mitch Stewart, who lost just five games at state a year ago, is the odds-on favorite to win a fourth crown.

Connor Garrett, a junior at Bellevue’s Interlake High, is looking to win his third straight crown and bides his time before the postseason starts by teaching tennis lessons – to adults.

Skyview’s Samantha Hampton, who won the girls 4A title as a sophomore and is the No. 1 recruit for the University of Washington’s Class of 2015, is the heavy favorite to repeat.

Last year’s State 3A girls singles champion, Mercer Island’s Nora Tan, graduated, but her finals opponent, who forced Tan to play three sets for the title, Holy Names’ Catherine Allen, returns for another go-around.

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