Sports

Mercer Island boys tennis program enters a new era

Mercer Island’s Andrew Smith returns a volley during his win last week over Tim Wong of Skyline. - Megan Managan/Mercer Island Reporter
Mercer Island’s Andrew Smith returns a volley during his win last week over Tim Wong of Skyline.
— image credit: Megan Managan/Mercer Island Reporter

This is the fifth week of a look at MIHS fall sports. A new team will be featured each week. Next week: cross country.

There have been some growing pains in the first few weeks of the new Mercer Island High School boys tennis program season. The team’s new head coach, Jamie Dieveny, had a different approach and game plan then the Islanders were used to. Though it was a tough situation to come into, Dieveny said last week that the team has made strides.

“It’s been going really well,” said the new head coach, who comes into the position with 20 years of experience as a tennis pro. “There were some growing pains at first with having a new coach and a new style. Especially the upperclassmen, who are used to a certain way to practice. We’re both meeting each other halfway. They have to trust me and my philosophy and goals, and I trust them, that they’re trying their hardest and that they want to be part of it. I think I came on pretty strong at first. If I had to do it again, I think I’d probably still let them know this is where I am and this is how it’s going to be now.”

Dieveny said while he has a lot of experience, coaching a high school team has been an eye-opener for him, and he plans to use their time this season to teach not only the game, but what it means to be on a team.

“I’m teaching them things like how do we be great sports on and off the court, how do we be a great team, how do we make the most out of our practices,” he said.

Making the most of practice time has become a big part of the team’s focus this season. Dieveny said the team will spend between 50 and 60 hours just practicing, preparing for matches this year.

“I’ve made it my commitment during that practice time that we have quality (time) and that we’re going to work hard on things,” he said. “We’re going to run and do lots of fitness-oriented stuff.”

Glen Kelton, a senior captain, said practicing hard and setting an example for the younger players will help keep the senior leadership strong, and make a successful season.

“As long as we do that (have the right lineup) and practice hard, we have the ability (to win state),” said Kelton.

Because the team and individuals have been successful in the past — Jordan Smith finished fifth in state this spring in singles, while Andrew Smith and Max Franklin took second in doubles — Dieveny said the players have the fundamentals down, so that he can focus on helping the team in other ways.

“As far as on court, it would be strategy, especially in doubles,” he said of some focuses for him as a coach. “But even more important then that, is how to represent. Even though tennis is one of many sports, I see what tennis means to the community. I was so inspired by the parent meeting, which I was told was going to be rough. These parents rallied around this team, and I left that meeting feeling so inspired to continue talking about representing the community and being great sports.”

He added that there has been a continued effort to make sure all 96 players feel a part of the team, not simply a varsity/JV split.

“When we step out on the court, it’s not just you, it’s everyone on the team that you’re representing,” he said.

The captains, Kelton and Andrew Smith, said their goal is to win a team state title this season, a feat that the boys tennis program hasn’t accomplished since 2007. The players also have their sights on the academic state title, given to the school with the best grade point average in the state in each classification.

“I think that state titles are won in pairs and groups in term of players that push each other to be better,” said Dieveny. “They are not won just by an individual winning state. That’s one piece of it. If we learn to trust each other and work hard together and support each other on and off the court, I think that a state title is a very probable goal.”

He also said it’s important to him, especially in his first year, to look back at the end of the season and see that the team worked hard.

Along the way the team’s in KingCo will test the Islanders and hopefully prepare them for a trip to Vancouver in the spring. Of course, there are always a couple of matches which stand out during the season.

“I’m most excited to play Liberty,” said Jordan Smith, who plays singles. Andrew Smith said Newport is another match they look forward to because of the long standing rivalry between schools. The Islanders travel to Liberty on Oct. 7 and play Newport, at Newport, in the last game of the regular season on Oct. 18.

“I’m excited to play Bellevue,” said Dieveny. “I coached a lot of kids from there and they have a good team. Any match we play we’re going to come in ready to rock and roll, but I’m looking forward to that one.”

While Dieveny said he’s not ready yet to make any final assessments on the singles or doubles match ups, he said Jordan and Andrew Smith will certainly be two players to watch.

“Jordan, he’s just making really good choices when he plays, he knows how to compete well in the big moments. Andrew Smith also, as a captain. I notice that he’s practicing really hard. He’s probably the one player that could give Jordan a run. I call it the sharpening of the swords, they are playing each other in practice and it’s very close. Either one of them are going to be extremely difficult to beat.”

Whether or not the team sends everyone to state or not, Dieveny said a successful season for him is having productive fun.

“Fun being a team, and I want to define fun by they worked hard together. Fun with a purpose.”

The Islanders will host Sammamish at MIHS on Thursday afternoon, beginning at 3:45 p.m. They then travel to Interlake and host Juanita on Oct. 5.

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