After a typical August week of wind and rain, a sunny Saturday morning saw the Dan Ramras Community Tennis Courts filled with scrimmaging players from West Valley, Lathrop, Hutchison, North Pole and Monroe Catholic high schools.
Saturday was the second day of the annual all-schools scrimmage, which gives players a chance to test their skills in an informal match setting while scoping out rival schools’ lineups.
In order to maximize playing time, coaches had their athletes scrimmage within eight-game pro sets, in which the first player to reach eight games by two points takes the match.
Court 1 featured a mixed-doubles match, which pitted West Valley’s Jordan Dick and Klara Kondrak against Tanner Young and Hannah Knott of Lathrop. Dick and Kondrak dominated the court, bringing in an 8-0 victory for the Wolfpack.
Dick, a senior at West Valley, is no stranger to the courts or competitive match play. She has played varsity tennis for the Wolfpack since her freshman year, and won the state championship for mixed doubles during the 2017-18 season.
Many of the Interior high school teams, West Valley’s included, are finding themselves in a transitional stage, with many of their freshmen players picking up rackets for the first time this season.
“They have a lot to learn,” Dick said. “We have a new coach this season who’s played (NCAA) Division I tennis. He’s already taught me a lot this season that I didn’t get from last season.”
Dick is speaking of Wolfpack tennis coach Sean Sullivan, a seasoned tennis player who is beginning his first season as an Interior high school coach. Sullivan is taking over from last year’s coach, Erik Markham, who succeeded longtime West Valley coach Tom Hammond.
While having many newcomers is beneficial for the Interior high school tennis program, Dick said that the growing ranks can also make efficient coaching difficult.
“(Sean) doesn’t have an assistant coach, so it’s hard to juggle the JV and varsity practices,” she said.
This season there are 23 players on West Valley’s roster, including returning sophomores Morgan Ely and Aidan Payne, who secured an 8-1 mixed doubles win over North Pole’s Aaron Zeisel and Grace Sikorski on Saturday.
A new North Pole
The Patriots are led this season by coaches Pat Moodie and Dan Kline. This season is Moodie’s first as a coach, but she is no stranger to tennis, having played for more than 10 years.
Kline knows his way around the courts as well, having played tennis for eight years and volunteering as an assistant coach for North Pole tennis last season.
“We have some returning players, but it is a young team at the same time,” said Kline. “We have about 16 players, and about half are brand new to the game.”
The Patriots’ lineup features three seniors and a handful of returning juniors and sophomores.
“The seniors have played all four years, but the others aren’t super experienced; so it’s definitely a young team overall,” Kline said.
Looking ahead at the season, Kline said that the team’s biggest strength is their camaraderie on and off the court.
“They’re a good group of team players, and they all like each other,” he said.
During Saturday’s scrimmage, North Pole’s Paige Stapp and Naya Derendott fell 8-3 to Hutchison’s girls doubles of Sofia Spires and AnaKarin Brosnan.
to make leaps
Lathrop will have familiar faces coaching this season.
Head coach Brett Carlson is returning for his third season, aided by assistant coach Mateo Wharton. While Carlson was unable to attend the scrimmage on Saturday, Wharton shared his thoughts about the Malemutes’ 2019-20 roster.
“We have a great group this year,” Wharton said. “We have very strong No. 1 singles players, for both boys and girls.”
Wharton said that among the group of returning Malemutes, there are two “outstanding” players and leaders that he hopes will progress during the season.
“Luke Millam and Helen Wharton, they’ve both been to state; but we’re coming into this year with a lesson-learned mentality,’’ coach Wharton said. “They’ve seen the (Anchorage) courts, they know the pressure, and they’ve really prepared their games to do a lot better.”
As an experienced tennis player and coach, Wharton wants to impart sportsmanship in his players both on and off the courts.
“I really want to support decency, and bringing their best to every single shot,’’ he said. “I want to see a team that will try and run for every ball.
“And as a hothead myself, I want the players to not be cross with themselves when they make mistakes.”
Saturday’s scrimmage saw Lathrop’s Helen Wharton and Ryan Thomas defeat the Wolfpack’s Cole Neal and Reaghan Dick 8-2.
As one of the team captains and veterans of Lathrop’s roster, Millam said that the returning players were “solid.”
“We also have a couple new ones that have a lot of potential,” Millam said. “Overall, our team’s looking good this season.”
Millam, a junior, has played both boys doubles and singles at previous state tournaments. This season, he said he wants to focus on his singles game in hopes of taking the state title.
share the wealth
As in past seasons, Hutchison and Monroe high schools have merged their tennis programs due to smaller rosters. In addition to combined practices, the teams also share coaches, with Hailey Messick and Caitlin Deutsch co-coaching the two schools.
This will be the first high school season for Messick and Deutsch, although both have grown up with tennis in their lives.
Messick, a former college player, has been playing for more than 20 years, and started coaching when she took over the middle school program last summer. Deutsch has been playing just as long, and played for her college’s club tennis team.
Messick said that there is a lot of new blood in the Hutch and Monroe rosters this season.
“Monroe is mostly freshmen with one senior, and Hutch has two seniors and a couple juniors, but a lot of new players as well.”
Messick said that because there are so many new faces, she and Deutsch are still getting to know the players and their abilities. “But they’re improving a lot.”
Of the returning Monroe players, Messick has high hopes for sophomore Erin Hendricks. “She’s a really solid player, and she’s a sophomore, so I’m excited we get her for another few years.”
Hendricks is one of only two girls on the Rams’ roster, which could be disadvantageous in matches against the larger schools.
A high school tennis varsity lineup typically features five boys and five girls, with two singles players; one doubles team for each gender; and one mixed doubles squad.
“It’s going to be hard filling slots and getting points during match play,” said Messick.
Asked about the experience of coaching two teams, in which both will have to compete against each other this season, Messick said that it was definitely an interesting arrangement.
“They’re all great kids, they’re really encouraging to one another, even being on different schools,’’ she said. “I think playing against each other, they’ll have a lot of respect.”
The first official matches of the season take place Tuesday. Lathrop faces Monroe at the Dan Ramras Community Tennis Courts, while West Valley takes on North Pole at the Patriots’ home courts.
Contact the News-Miner sports desk at 459-7586.