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Raiders defending champs, but Decatur looks like team to beat
By CASEY OLSON
The Thomas Jefferson Raiders return as the defending South Puget Sound League South Division champions after rolling through the league with a 13-1 record and should be right in the title chase again this year, according to head coach Andrew Buchan.
But winning tennis matches is nothing new at TJ. During Buchans 15 years at the helm of the Raider program, Jefferson is an impressive 151-29. The Raiders have also won nine SPSL South titles in the last 12 years.
The Raiders did lose a lot from last years championship squad. Buchan graduated five of his top-eight players, including Kenny Fritschy, Jewel Sharpe, Zach Bunting, Shane Odenwalder and Matt Davidson. All five also had postseason experience.
The lone returner this season to play at the West Central District Tournament last year is senior John Poore. Also back from last years varsity roster are seniors Colin Okazaki, who has a career record of 29-4, Chris Yoon and Sam Yi.
Depth is always a strength at TJ, Buchan said.
Providing the depth this year will be newcomers Josh Williams, Tyler Engstrom, Greg Yu, Eric Nishimura, Martin McBride and Derek Moore.
The Decatur Gators look like the class of the SPSL South, on paper.
Decatur has the dominant team in the South returning seven varsity players including state champion Chris Rice and West Central District qualifiers Lawrence Lin, Fabian Saenz and Travis Wagner, Buchan said. It will be difficult for anyone to defeat them.
Buchan also sees Puyallup, Emerald Ridge and Todd Beamer as possible title contenders.
The SPSL South season opens Tuesday with TJ hosting Federal Way.
The Gators return the best player in Washington in senior Chris Rice, who has won the last two Class 4A state singles championships. Rice hasnt lost a match since his freshman year when he played at the state tournament with doubles partner Brandon Abang.
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, Fabian Saenz, Lawrence Lin and Tim Blackner. All four players have experience playing at the West Central District Tournament during their Gator careers. Also back are seniors Joey Hua and Kevin Hilden.
The Gators finished up 12-2 in the SPSL South last year, which was good for second place behind Thomas Jefferson. Decatur split with TJ and Puyallup.
Decatur opens the SPSL South season at home Tuesday against the Curtis Vikings.
The Titans had a pretty solid season last year in the SPSL South. Beamer finished in fourth place with a league record of 8-6 behind TJ, Decatur and Curtis. The record came just one season after the Titans finished 0-13 in the SPSL South.
The Titans return four of the top players from last years team in junior Colin Zalewski and sophomores Charles Chan, Kyle Christensen and Brian Shaw. Third-year coach Jeff Richards also will be counting on freshman Corey Zalewski to score points.
Beamer opens its SPSL South season Wednesday at home against league favorite Decatur.
The Eagles return four solid players from a team that finished a respectable 6-6 in the SPSL South last year. Back are senior Brian White, junior Randall Ventura and sophomores Jesse Johnson and Matt Christopher.
Federal Way did, however, lose three consistent point scorers in Derek Van De Wege, Kyle Skinner and Eric Ryan.
Head coach Jerome Collins will be counting on three newcomers sophomores Matt Dahl and Dathan Heinen and freshman Jake Stewert to replace Van De Wege, Skinner and Ryan.
The Eagles open their season Tuesday on the road against defending SPSL South champion Thomas Jefferson.
Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, email@example.com