Sports

Beamer's ace in the hole

Todd Beamer High School senior Kyle Christensen has racked up an impressive 6-1 record during the regular season, helping the Titans to a 14-0 record and the South Puget Sound League South Division championship. - Casey Olson, The Mirror
Todd Beamer High School senior Kyle Christensen has racked up an impressive 6-1 record during the regular season, helping the Titans to a 14-0 record and the South Puget Sound League South Division championship.
— image credit: Casey Olson, The Mirror

Beamer head tennis coach Brent Brilhante freely admits that he isn’t going to be getting a job coaching the United States Davis Cup team any time soon.

The 1997 Decatur High School grad is known around Federal Way as the assistant basketball coach at Decatur High School and a member of the highest-placing city team in state basketball tournament history — second in 1996.

So when he was hired right before the season as the Beamer tennis coach, Brilhante knew he would be learning on the fly.

“I came in as a first-year coach who played tennis more for fun when I was in junior high and high school,” Brilhante said. “I never played on a tennis team. Most of my knowledge is in basketball.”

This is where Kyle Christensen enters the picture.

The red-headed senior had already proved that he was one of the best tennis players in the South Puget Sound League. As a junior, Christensen teamed with Colin Zalewski and qualified for the Class 4A State Boys Tennis Championships a season ago.

But this year, Christensen has taken his already solid game to another level. He finished the regular season with an impressive 6-1 record in singles play, while basically acting as Brilhante’s assistant coach. The pair led the Titans to a perfect 14-0 record and the SPSL South Division championship.

“During the first couple days of practice, he was pretty much running things for everybody,” Brilhante said. “He was a lot of help for the first week or two.”

That was also the case during the district and state tournaments last year, when Christensen basically was the head coach for the Titans. A week before the spring postseason was set to get under way, former Beamer head man Jeff Richards had to relinquish his duties after being hired as a firefighter.

“We had a teacher from our school that would come out to practice,” Christensen said. “But they were basically just there to babysit. It was a little awkward not having a regular coach there at the tournaments. But we made it through and it all worked out.”

Christensen started playing tennis as a 10-year-old after hearing about lessons being given at Marine Hills by current Jefferson coach Andrew Buchan.

“I was on the summer swim team at Marine Hills and saw they were giving group tennis lessons,” Christensen said. “I signed up and just kept playing during the summers. I just liked being out there and competing and hitting balls and running around.”

The summer playing has since turned into a year-round dedication to the sport of tennis. Christensen estimates that he plays around 10 hours a week during the winter months and more during the spring, summer and fall. He also got in some extra work last summer when he worked as a tennis instructor at Marine Hills.

“I taught lessons there for the first time and I knew some games and drills to get us started this year,” Christensen said.

Christensen’s play and leadership helped the Titans snare their second straight SPSL South Division championship last week after finishing the regular season with a perfect 14-0 record.

“Winning the title has a lot of importance for me,” Christensen said. “It was great to end my last year 14-0. Beamer is keeping up the good tennis reputation in the league. We have been solid for the last couple years.”

Christensen’s lone singles loss during the regular season came to Puyallup’s Scott Sullivan, 6-1, 6-4. Sullivan finished up in third place last year at the state tournament and is ranked as one of the top-200 high school players in the nation this year.

“I think he was a little bit nervous,” Brilhante said. “He was up 4-2 in the second set against the guy and couldn’t hold on. But it was a great match.”

Christensen will not only have to deal with Sullivan at the upcoming SPSL Tournament, but also with Kentwood’s Max Manthou. Manthou rolled to the Class 4A state title a season ago and has been cruising this year.

“They are the top guys,” Christensen said. “I think I kind of have a variety in my game. Doubles is a lot of team work and a little more aggressive. In singles you have to work the points more and be more patient.”

The tennis postseason kicks of today at Kent-Meridian High School for teams in the SPSL North Division and at the Sprinker Tennis Center in Spanaway for the South.

The SPSL Tournament will run through Saturday with final matches being played at Sprinker with berths into the West Central District being decided. The district tournament, as well as state, will be played in the spring.

Christensen enters the tournament as the No. 2 seed from the South Division behind Puyallup’s Sullivan. He will play Graham-Kapowin’s Michael Black in the quarterfinals after getting a bye in the opening round. The top-10 finishers from the SPSL qualify for districts.

“He is just a great kid,” Brilhante said about Christensen. “He gets good grades and is a really motivated kid.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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