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Looking for some competition | Boys tennis loses biggest rival, challenge in Newport
Most 3A KingCo high school tennis seasons come down to Mercer Island and Newport. The rest of the teams play for third or fourth place. This year, the only team left of those two schools in 3A KingCo after realignment is Mercer Island.
“Our team is going to be pretty good, but there are only six teams in our league,” said Mercer Island Coach Joyce Hedlund. “We have very few spots going to state, so we have to keep our eye on the prize.”
The biggest challenge for Mercer Island this season will be Bellevue. The Wolverines will field a strong team and could become the Islanders’ new rival on the tennis court.
“It is really sad,” said Hedlund. “Bellevue might be a better team this year, but Newport is who we always want to beat. When they put this league together, they had no respect for the history of this sport.”
The Islanders will play Newport at a non-league meet. But Hedlund is certain that the rivalry feel will be gone with nothing to play for. That kind of history is hard to recreate with nothing on the line.
The immediate history was Islanders Max Franklin and Matt Ellis dominating the doubles play in KingCo. This season Ellis, a senior, will try his hand at singles play.
“My experience at state will only help me this year,” said Ellis, who is the only player on the team with four years of varsity experience. “I have more practice in singles. I think my forehand has gotten a lot better recently, and I am ready.”
As for Franklin, he has carved out his name as one of the best doubles players in the league as a junior.
The Islanders have seen an influx of players this season. While the no-cut sport normally draws an average of 80 players per season, the Islanders have 97 boys.
“It is tough with just two coaches,” said Hedlund. “But they all have working knowledge of tennis, which is pretty amazing.”
Those numbers are due to a huge sophomore class with six players who could make a huge impact in the next few years.
But the Islanders will need those players as half of the varsity team graduated last year.
“We had a healthy influx of players, and many of them know their stuff,” said Hedlund.
Many of the players on the team have taken to playing year-round and getting into offseason tournaments to help their game. The program has had a lack of year-round players during the past few years.
“If I had my way, every kid would play more than one sport,” said Hedlund. “But there are so many kids who play year-round, you almost have to in order to compete.”
One player who will make an immediate impact is freshman Jordan Smith, who could play as high as No. 2 singles.
But with just six teams in the league, Hedlund is worried about the development of her players for lack of competition.
Another big change is the extension of the league season by two weeks longer into the winter. The move means that the KingCo tournament will start on Nov. 1.
“I guess we’ll just have to shovel the snow off the court,” said Hedlund.