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TJ looks like tennis team to beat
By CASEY OLSON
The Thomas Jefferson tennis team really cant improve on what they did last season. The Raiders put together a perfect 13-0 year and won the South Puget Sound League South Division championship.
Things look pretty good for Jefferson to repeat in the South. The Raiders and coach Andrew Buchan lost only one player from that team. But Buchan isnt ready to hoist their second straight SPSL South championship just yet.
The league is better and we cant sneak up on anyone, he said.
The one player the Raiders lost was a big one. Gone is Todd Schultz, who was one of TJs top point scorers a year ago and played at the Class 4A State Tennis Championships, along with doubles partner Todd Fritschy.
Fritschy will be the Raiders top returner this season. The senior played singles during the SPSL regular season before teaming with Schultz for the postseason. Buchan also returns Shane Odenwalder, Jewel Sharpe, Zach Bunting, Colin Okazaki and John Poore.
Odenwalder and Sharpe occupied the No. 1 doubles slot all season and Bunting and Okazaki played most of the year at No. 2 doubles and finished 12-0 together. Poore played both singles and doubles throughout the season.
Buchan doesnt have to look to far to see his teams biggest challenge in winning the SPSL South title.
Decatur is vastly improved, he said. They have added at least two quality players to state champion Chris Rice and with the coaching of Steve Escame theres no telling how strong theyll be.
The Gators do return Rice, who didnt lose a match during this sophomore season, and cruised to the Class 4A state championship in singles play. But coach Steve Escame has more than just Rice on his talented team.
Decatur returns six other players with some varsity experience, including Travis Wagner and Tim Blackner. The doubles team was just one win away from advancing to the West Central District Tournament.
The Gators finished up 9-4 in the SPSL South, which was good for fourth place. But Decatur proved they had plenty of talent during last years SPSL Tournament. The Gators outdistanced Emerald Ridge to win the championship.
We will have our usual competitive season, Escame said. A lot depends on how those who played some last year develop their skills and consistencies. Thomas Jefferson has to be the prohibitive favorite in as much as they went undefeated last year and lost only one starter.
Also returning for the Gators will be seniors Chris Coble and Barrett Johnson and juniors Kevin Hilden and Joey Hua. Escame will also be counting on newcomers Fabian Saenz and Lawrence Lin to score points.
But Rice will still be the focus of the Gators attack when he gets back to 100 percent. Following his state championship victory, Rice had a dinner plate break in his hand, cutting a tendon. The injury kept him from playing on the summer tennis circuit and has limited his play early for the Gators.
He looks good if he takes nothing but forehands, serves and overheads, Escame said. His backhand is coming along. He is so quick he can avoid the backhand most of the time, but against good players he might be in trouble. I foresee him healing by the end of the season.
The Eagles return four solid players from a team that finished 4-9 in the SPSL South last year. Back are seniors Eric Ryan, Derek VanDeWege, Kyle Skinner and Chris McColgan.
Ryan was the most successful of the four. As a junior, the singles player was one win away from advancing to the West Central District Tournament. Ryan finished fourth at the SPSL South Tournament after playing a bulk of the season as the Eagles No. 2 singles player.
But Federal Way did lose several point scorers from a season ago, including No. 1 singles player Kyle Sahagun. The Eagles open SPSL South play Sept. 10 at home against league favorite Jefferson.
The Titans finished their inaugural season in the SPSL South without a win (0-13). But there is some good news for coach Jeff Richards Beamer didnt lose any players to graduation. Richards returns his entire roster for the 2004 season and even now has some players with actual high-school tennis experience.
Back for the Titans will be seniors Mike Yellam and Ryan Bellessa and juniors Colin Zalewski and Aaron Eichman. Beamer will also be counting on newcomers Richard Lim, Kyle Christiansen, Brian Shaw and Charles Chan.
The Titans open their season Sept. 10 at home against Curtis.
Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, email@example.com