It’s state or bust for Medical Lake senior Noah Ray, who hopes to build on his two previous state appearances.
“Going into this year’s state competition, I am absolutely not leaving our regional tournament without being first and then going into state, I am leaving with a medal,” Ray said. “Going into my senior year, that is absolutely my goal.”
Ray has won one match and lost two in each of his trips to state. This season he wants to get over the hump and earn a medal.
“He sets himself apart from everybody else because he plays outside of high school tennis,” ML head coach Jake Wesselman said. “He puts in the time and that sets himself apart from everybody on our team, but everyone in our league as well.”
Wesselman made it clear that Ray is his most coachable and self-driven player he has had in his coaching career.
“I think that motivation is there for him, which is intrinsic and innate,” Wesselman said. “I can’t motivate him to want to do those things outside of practice, which is what every coach wants.”
Ray uses that motivation to drive his soaring confidence.
“I want to be MVP of the league again and go to state and hopefully place top five,” Ray said. “It was a goal that we had last year and unfortunately when we went to state I had a rough draw and I battled. I was able to leave Yakima last year saying that I put everything I had into that tournament.”
Ray and the rest of the Cardinals are in the midst of an interesting season. Out is the core group of seniors that formed the backbone of the squad in years past. In are underclassmen and multisport athletes trying their hand at tennis for the first time.
“Very young team,” Wesselman said. “We have a couple guys who have a good chunk of experience, but still young, though.”
One of the guys with experience is Ray, who has played tennis all four years. But Ray didn’t grow up with a racket in his hand. Rather, he preferred the soft leather of a volleyball.
“I realized I started to love tennis a lot more than I loved volleyball,” Ray said.
Ray is a coach for the U-17 Out of System volleyball team, a national club team in Spokane. His mentor is former North Central volleyball coach Patrick Rausch, head coach of Out of System.
“(Rausch) really took me under his wing and has been mentoring me as a coach because I love volleyball, but there came a certain point where my role in volleyball wasn’t as a player,” Ray said.
The switch has worked well for the former Northeast A league MVP, who is headed to Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, a Division II Catholic school competing in the NAIA.
“They are a program on the rise right now and I want to be a part of it, to develop it,” Ray said. “That’s also why I love my high school program now, because we are on the rise. I guarantee this year if not in the next couple years, Medical Lake is going to be top in the league again.”
If the Cardinals hope to contend this season, the new faces will have to mature quickly.
“This year is really a growth year for us. We have a lot of underclassmen and really athletic kids on our team, but this year is really a growth year. There is a lot of opportunity,” Wesselman said.
It wouldn’t be fair to call this a rebuilding season for the Cardinals, as their roster is peppered with athletes from other sports. That includes a state champion wrestler, but the youth and inexperience is a factor, especially early on in the campaign.
Ray doesn’t believe the lack of veteran tennis leadership is an issue for Medical Lake.
“It isn’t a bad thing and that is the tough part,” he said. “A lot of people are looking at that as a bad thing, but it’s really not. … We have a team of very athletic kids that have that drive and they’re competitive in their other sports, and they’re bringing that to the tennis court and it is awesome for our program.”
Ray hopes to coach some day, after he earns his business degree and accomplishes his tennis goals at Brescia.
“If an opportunity presents itself in the coaching atmosphere, I am absolutely going to grab that and run with it,” Ray said.
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