The lost year due to the pandemic battered high school teams throughout the country.
University boys tennis was able to weather the storm better than some as its 2019-20 season featured only two seniors. Still, it was rough for those athletes.
“It was, I’ll just use a word – tragic – for my two seniors, because they had worked so hard to get to where they were, and then it was over,” U-Hi head coach Aaron Alteneder said.
He knew most of the juniors would return if there was a season to be played, even if it’s a half-season.
“I hate to even use the word lucky with COVID – but I feel like we were way more fortunate than some of the other sports and some of the other teams,” Alteneder said. “Because I had so many juniors who were at least able to salvage – I hate some of these words – but we’re kind of able to salvage something for their senior year.”
One of those juniors a season ago was Austin Alteneder, his son, who worked over the past season to improve his craft and his leadership.
“I’ve always been on varsity as a freshman, sophomore and junior,” Austin said. “I was always the youngest one on the team. I always looked up to the seniors. And now that I am a senior, it is so cool, because I get to be a positive role model and example for those other kids that also want to get better and compete at high levels.”
As a sophomore in 2018, Austin was first-team All-Greater Spokane League.
“I’ve never had a sophomore boy first-team all-league in the GSL,” Aaron Alteneder said. “I could step back and say, ‘I never voted in that way.’ That’s the other coaches, so it made it cool.”
Austin also sports a 3.98 grade-point average and makes it clear that academics come before athletics.
“I always make sure to get my homework done and then after I’m done with all my work, tennis is kind of like my reward,” Austin said.
“I get to go play after I do well in my schoolwork.”
“And so for me, I am a super proud dad,” Aaron Alteneder said. “If I was (just his coach) and we’re having this conversation, I’d tell you the same thing. I’ve never had a kid like that.”
Austin was expected to play doubles his freshman season, but he approached his dad and told him he would be playing singles.
“He goes, ‘Dad, I know you really want me to play doubles as a freshman … I got news for you. I’m not playing doubles, that’s not going to happen,’” Aaron said.
One final season for Austin before he heads off to college – he is keeping his eyes on Whitworth and Eastern Washington – and he will have to leave his teammates, some of whom he has been around for a few seasons.
Last season forced him away from his teammates, but they have been back together this spring.
“It has been really cool to have everyone together again and get to go to matches and cheer each other on. That has been so amazing,” Austin said.
Knights’ Phout bounces back
After a physically painful ninth-grade year that culminated with her losing in the state tournament at least partially due to her injury, East Valley junior Tiffany Phout knew she had to get right.
Despite the injury, Phout still took eighth in the tourney.
She had surgery in 2020 to help alleviate the lower-body pain that was hurting her to walked.
Still recovering, Phout is looking to regain her strength and push toward a potential state tournament next season – Washington is not holding state tournament this year.
“She’s pretty strong now and playing really well so far through the first part of our season,” Knights coach Jabez Harlan said. “And we’ve got really, really high hopes for her.”
When everything was shut down last season, Phout – who started playing at age 4 – was unable to do her normal offseason training regimen . Her improvement from her freshman year is not up to her standard.
She is going to use this season to help her get ready for the 2022 season. If a state tournament appearance and success her senior season happen, that is all bonus for Phout.
But she has the mindset and the skill set to be a dominating player again.
Part of what makes her so good is her demeanor, Harlan said. It also helps that even with her small frame, she is able to generate a lot of power.
“I think that she really kind of surprises people when they get on court with her because she doesn’t really look like she can hit as hard as she does or move as quickly as she does,” Harlan said.
Phout also isn’t outspoken or direct with her leadership. She prefers to lead by example and let her play lead her team. Harlan said her play is so composed, even if she is under pressure.
“She just she carries herself really well,” Harlan said.
Harlan, who is in his 11th season and was the 2019 Great Northern League Coach of the Year, built his message for the season around last year’s seniors.
“Our goal this year was to play for those seniors that did get to have a season,” Harlan said. “And the attitudes on the team have been great. Every day coming to practice, the girls are there and just feel so lucky that they get to play it.”
As they continue to bond and build relationships, Harlan and Phout are proud of what the Knights have accomplished on and off the court.
“I do want to say that the team overall is just very supportive of each other and very positive, especially for the circumstances,” Phout said.
“We’ve really focused on coming together and really establishing, strong connections and relationships with each other,” Harlan said.
“Because these girls last year, they were all isolated in their homes. And that took a real toll on everybody’s mental health.”
4A/3A boys (2019 finish/record)
Ferris (fourth, 6-3): Fourth-year coach Jim Utzinger expects the Saxons to be competitive with everyone this season. They have a well-rounded group of singles players and a good nucleus of doubles teams, he said. Key returners: Jeremy LaSalle, Anders Hanson.
Gonzaga Prep (fifth, 5-4): Coach Jon Wrigley enters his 19th season with one returning varsity player, senior Matthew Kuester. He’ll move from doubles to singles.
Lewis and Clark (third, 7-2): With practice beginning over spring break, coach Tobin Phelps (19th season) has tried to determine roles and the depth of the roster. Key returners: Alan Zeng, Alex Ellingsen, Wade Rabin, Breydan Spray.
Mt. Spokane (first, 9-0): Don Story, in his 11th season, is rebuilding as the Wildcats lost many key players after the 2019 season and regional title. Harvey Johnson will be competitive at the No. 1 singles spot and the same could be said for Max Molgard at the No. 2 spot.
Cheney (Great Northern League fourth, 2-6): First-year coach Dan Estock will look to mold his current crop of athletic players into a competitive squad. The Blackhawks are looking forward to their first season in the GSL. Key returners: Alex Rose (No. 1 singles), Alex Bowman and Sam Laughton (No. 1 doubles).
East Valley (GNL fifth, 1-7): Kevin Trim enters his first season with the Knights with four returning starters and will lean on seniors Corey Phout and Chase Wiedmer. “I feel lucky that everyone is a returning player,” he said.
Pullman (GNL first, 7-1): Fifth-year coach Cody Wendt returns a strong nucleus that is set to push for more state success. The Greyhounds are 3-0 to start this season. Key returners: Jay Sahaym (No. 1 singles), Connor Lee /Ambrose Wang (No. 1 doubles).
Shadle Park (GSL ninth, 1-8): Fifth-year coach Shawn Howard hopes to make noise with the league realignments. Key returners: Matthew Nitchman, Cole Hooper, Brody Brottrell.
West Valley (GNL third, 3-5): The Eagles graduated their strongest senior class in seasons, but returning players Cory Jones and Ian Howett will be seen as the leaders. Expect to see West Valley compete from the first match to the last, fourth-year coach Ned Fadeley said.
Gonzaga Prep (seventh, 3-5): With two graduating classes gone, Bullpups second-year coach Jason Chapman is venturing into unknown territory. Key returners: Juliet McFarland, Adelle West, Carly Walton, Kate Palelek.
Lewis and Clark (first, 9-0): The entire coaching staff was reshuffled – no coach remains from the undefeated 2019 season and Kate Burns takes over. Seven of 10 varsity players are seniors.
Mt. Spokane (third, 7-2): Jacob Fry enters his second year hoping to continue the Wildcats success from 2019 when they were 3A regional champs. Their top returners are senior No. 1 doubles team Claire Gularte and Kayden Younker. Sophomore Joy Clark will be No. 1 singles.
University (fourth, 6-3): The Titans have only two seniors on the roster, the first time in coach Julene Osborn’s 19 seasons where that’s happened. Key returners: Gretchen Drews, Allison Osborn, Emily Acosta.
Clarkston (GNL first, 8-0): Kerrington Tenwick took fifth at state her ninth-grade year and returns with six other seniors for second-year coach Margie Denton. Key returners: Jenna Allen, Corah Cassel, Katie Kaufman.
Shadle Park (GSL ninth, 1-8): Shadle has many returning players and good senior leadership to help fourth-year coach Shahid Quidwai bridge the gap from the lost season. Key returners: Alihna Grandos, Emma Johnson, Ashley Solt, Hailey Castro.
West Valley (GNL second, 6-2): Outlook: Clay Nelson is excited to get back out onto the court for the first time since 2019 for his 21st season with a team laden with seniors. Key returners: Erin Sanchez, Gracelyn Davis, Sage McAllister, Kira Smith, Carly Bale, Macy McPhee.
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