Coming off of a 2015 Region 12 win, the NS boys tennis team is back and ready to play. With a new assistant coach and more members than ever, it’s looking to be a busy and competitive season.
Last year the team had a varsity line-up composed of mostly seniors. This year those boys are gone and it’s time for some different players to step up to the challenge.
“I’m hoping that the juniors this year and all of the new players will step-up and fill those shoes because that’s how a high school team has to run,” said junior Benjamin Palmer.
This isn’t the first time that juniors and younger classmen have had to fill the shoes of previous players.
“We were in this same situation two years ago and we ended up pulling it out pretty well. I’m sure we can do it again,” said junior Brendan Blackham.
Since the graduated seniors made-up most of the varsity lineup last year, there is a lack of experience in this area of play for the upcoming season. However, the coaches and players believe they can do well.
“From last year we have three boys who played varsity. We have a lot of boys who have played quite a bit though who would be great additions to the line-up,” said coach Matt Braithwaite. “I’m hopeful we can really put some great combinations out and hit our sweet spots.”
Although the team graduated five seniors, there is no shortage of boys competing on this year’s team. With thirty-two members, the team is bigger than it’s ever been.
“I think [thirty-two players] is awesome personally. It’s good to have a lot of people. You find the real players and everyone gets a lot of attention,” said Blackham. “You get more people to play because they tell their younger siblings to join which really builds the program up.”
In the past three years, the number of players on the team has increased from an average of fewer than 20 boys, to 27 boys last season, to 32 boys this season. In addition to thirty-two players, there are two coaches–Matt Braithwaite as head coach and Sterling Whipple as assistant coach–and four managers. With such a large increase in numbers, comes this question. Why has tennis gained so much popularity?
“Because we win when the guys’ sports have a hard time doing that,” said Blackham.
Tennis is one of the few boys sports at the school that consistently is able to compete with and win against the other schools in our region. Besides the attraction winning brings, the tennis program has also had a successful implementation.
“I think the Ericksen’s set such a good foundation down,” said Braithwaite. “They really invested in the community and helped give a lot of kids a great opportunity to play the sport. The communities around here got on board and like to play, even if it’s not competitively.”
With a team so large, some changes have to be made to the way practice is run. Rather than just having one practice with everyone, the practice is split into two groups. The first group’s practice starts after school and goes from 3:15-5:15, while the second group practices from 4:15-6:00. There is an hour of overlap where all of the boys are practicing together so they still mesh as a team.
“The one nice thing for sure is that we are able to give more attention to each of the groups. We as coaches are able to give more attention to each player individually,” said Braithwaite. “It takes a little bit more time, but I think it’s worth it.”
The coaches are not the only ones who feel that split practice is beneficial.
“It’s a smaller coach to player ratio, so you get some good work done with the coaches rather than waiting in line for 15 minutes before you get to hit,” said Palmer.
As the season begins, the coaches and players have set some goals that they would like to accomplish this year.
“Personally I’d like to make it past the first round at state. As a team I’d like to see us take region again and a lot more times to come,” said Palmer.
The coaches and players have pretty similar views on what they’d like the team to accomplish this season.
“For me mentally always I believe that you’re gunning for a region championship,” said Braithwaite. “I think also you want to shoot for a team title too at the state level. You have to help find ways to motivate your players to do that. Ultimately I’d love to see us win a region championship and to win multiple rounds at state and make it into Saturday.”
The Hawks played their first preseason game on Tuesday the 15th in Delta where they won 4-1. They played their second game on the Thursday the 17th at NS. The Hawks lost 1-4 against Uintah.