Hammond quits MI tennis team

By Matt Phelps

One of Mercer Island High School's top tennis players, Jeff Hammond, quit the Islander tennis team last week.

``There are a bunch of reasons but the main one is that I have a (United States Tennis Association) national tournament at the same time as state,'' said Hammond. ``I would have had the same result as last year; put in all this effort during the season and I would not get to play at state.''

Hammond leaves the team after making the state tournament during each of his first three years in high school. He was forced to forfeit during the semifinals of the state tournament last spring thanks to a scheduling conflict with the SAT.

During his sophomore year, Hammond had to forfeit during the state tournament due to injuries.

``I have always wanted to have a good showing at state and this is my senior year,'' said Hammond, who finished the USTA season last spring ranked No. 4 at the 16-and-under level. ``This was my last shot at a state title but I have no choice.''

The senior also said he does not have enough time for school with the USTA and high school tennis events and practices.

The announcement stunned the long-time Islander tennis coach.

``I was so depressed,'' said Mercer Island tennis head coach Joyce Hedlund, who has coached at the high school for 14 years. ``I felt so bad. I have never had a kid quit. I feel bad for him and the rest of the boys because I wanted them to be able to win the state title. He seemed happy playing with us, but I guess things just didn't work out.''

Hammond's departure is a huge blow to the team which is now without one of the top players in the state.

``I think it became too much for him,'' said Hedlund. ``We sure could have used him.''

Hammond's teammates were initially shocked and upset by the announcement.

``One or two of the boys said it was really selfish, but they haven't spoken about it since,'' said Hedlund, who also coached Hammond's older sister Stephanie. ``This means the state title right here and they know it.''

``I I know they were upset. But they know that there is more competition outside of high school tennis and that is where I need to be,'' said Hammond.

The loss of Hammond wont be the end of the Islanders. The team's players took out their frustrations on the Garfield High School boys tennis team by shutting out the Bulldogs 9-0, Sept. 6. The Islanders then dismantled perennial state contender Eastlake, 8-1, on Wednesday.

``We just have to move on,'' said Hedlund. ``In the long run he is going to wish he stayed. He could have won a state title.''

The team played with what will become a familiar lineup: Chris Bailey No. 1, Chris Winterbauer No. 2 and Trevor Fulp No. 3.

Bailey took his spot as the No. 1 player and won both of his matches during the meets. In fact, all the singles players in the top four for Mercer Island won both of their matches without giving up a set.

The departure of Hammond may set up one up-and-coming player for early varsity experience: freshman Matt Ellis. Hedlund has high hopes for Ellis as a varsity player in the future as he was elevated to be the No. 4 singles player for the team. Ellis made the most of of the promotion as he won both matches he played against Garfield and Eastlake.

The Mercer Island doubles teams did not lose a match during either meet as well, and gave up just three sets out of the 14 played.

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