Sports

A family tradition

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

The Rice family is in the business of tennis.

Some are plumbers, others have histories as carpenters and there are even a few families out there lucky enough to have a long lineage of doctors running through the branches of their family trees.

Hitting a neon yellow ball over a net is the path the three children of Mick and Joanne Rice have chosen and the trio has received plenty of on-the-job training after growing up with a graphite racquet in their hands.

“They get them started young,” said Decatur head coach Steve Escame, who has taught all three Rice kids the ins and outs of the sport.

But its the youngest of the siblings, Chris, that might already be the best of the brood. The sophomore at Decatur won the Class 4A singles tennis championship last month at the state tournament in Spokane. Rice’s victory single-handedly placed the Gators second as a team behind Wenatchee.

The title also completed the state championship-sweep for the family. A Class 4A tennis title has turned into a right of passage into adulthood for the Rice children.

Rice’s two older siblings, brother Jeffery and sister Joanna, were both part of state championship-winning doubles teams. Jeffery Rice teamed with Ram Hernandez to claim the 1998 boys doubles title and Joanna Rice and Sirrah Williams took the girls championship during the 2000 state tournament.

“All three are just marvelous players,” Escame said. “But Chris is the most gifted on the tennis court.”

Rice was as close to untouchable as you can get during his sophomore season. He put together a perfect 28-0 record, culminating with a straight-set win over Central Kitsap’s Francisco Carressquero in the state championship match. He played only two three-set matches during the year — one against Emerald Ridge’s Greg Ferry and against Hudson’s Bay sophomore Spencer Mendoza in a memorable semifinal match at state. Mendoza was the defending Class 4A singles champion.

“Chris has such a dedication to tennis and works really hard,” Escame said. “And he did this as a sophomore. Things look pretty good for the next couple years.”

About the only competition Rice gets in this area comes against his older brother, who he credits with shaping his game. Jeffery Rice just completed his junior season on the Brigham Young University-Hawaii tennis team, who won the NCAA Division II team title in 2002 and ‘03.

“I’ve beat him before,” Chris said. “If I beat him, he usually gets pretty mad. But we love to compete against each other and we are pretty even.”

Joanna Rice is currently in the midst of the spring quarter at Brigham Young University in Utah, where she is not playing tennis.

“Chris is a lot younger than they are,” Escame said. “And he was always kind of a tag-along.”

The tagging-along not only developed Chris’ on-the-court tennis game, which is pretty obvious when you watch the sophomore play. But, maybe more importantly, it helped make Rice into a very driven and hard-working individual.

“Jeff was the most intense and focused player I have ever had,” Escame said. “He would never give up a point. He was so focused on every point and Chris has that dedication. He works really hard and sets goals. I starting coaching him when he was 6 years old and I said this kid is going to be great.”

Rice’s mental and athletic dedication to tennis will be tested this summer. Following his state championship victory, Rice had a dinner plate break in his hand, cutting a tendon. According to him, the hand is going to take about 12 weeks to heal, which will come close to the beginning of the fall sports season at Decatur. Boys tennis is played during the fall in the South Puget Sound League.

“I hope to get back to playing,” Rice said. “I was looking forward to playing tournaments during the summer. I think I could have done good. I’m kind of disappointed.”

Before the injury, Rice was playing tennis five days a week, two and a half hours a day — rain or shine.

“He is a gifted athlete,” Escame said. “He could play any sport and be good at it. He has great balance, eyes, speed and quickness. I think he could

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