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Boys’ Tennis preview: Douglas aiming for playoff spot

by Joey Crandall

Last year, the Douglas High girls’ tennis team enjoyed a wildly successful breakout season, rolling undefeated through their entire schedule before falling in the regional championship match to perennial powerhouse Reno High.

While the girls should continue to be competitive this year, it’s the boys’ who are hoping for a breakout season of their own.

And why shouldn’t they be?

Douglas returns its top six players from last season, including four who competed in last year’s regional tournament, along with five others who saw significant playing time. They have their largest roster – 17 players – in years with a healthy mix of four seniors, six juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen.

And, lest anyone forget, the Tigers’ top returning player is defending state champion James TenBroeck, who went 20-0 on the year and didn’t lose a single set during the regional and state tournaments.

“On paper, we are much stronger than we were last year,” Douglas coach Rod Smith said. “We have a ton of athleticism and experience. It’s a huge plus to have these guys back.”

Now, it’ll just be a matter of getting the team to full strength.

“The reality is, it will take us a little while to get there,” Smith said.

TenBroeck and Matt Williams – who forms the team’s top doubles pairing with Matt Thomas – will miss the first two weeks (four matches) of the season due to violations of team rules. And junior Garon Athanacio, the team’s No. 2 singles player last year with a record of 15-16, had trouble getting his medical clearance before practice started, meaning he’ll miss at least a week to start the year.

“We won’t be as strong as we can be to start out, but we have some great players who saw time last year to step up and give us a boost,” Smith said.

Craig Stratton, who was Douglas’ No. 3 singles player last year (13-16), will likely start the year out in the top spot while sophomore Cody Tindel will get the nod in the No. 2 spot of a solid offseason on the tournament circuit.

“Cody, in his first match as a freshman last year beat Fallon’s No. 1,” Smith said. “He really hasn’t stopped impressing since.”

Grant Mason, who went 6-12 in the No. 2 doubles slot last year, will see time on the singles side as will Shane Patton and Tayler Christopher.

“We have a bunch of guys that have been playing all summer and they have clearly gotten better,” Smith said. “You can see a vast difference in their game from last year to this year.”

Filling out a line-up won’t be hard as Smith kept the school’s largest boys’ tennis roster in at least the last decade, giving him two full lineups worth of players.

“I figured I’d go with a no-cut season, especially if we had so many underclassmen who have a chance to grow into strong players in the future,” Smith said. “I kept everyone who came and everyone who could come back from last year pretty much did come back.”

Smith said he has high expectations from a numer of brothers on the team, including sophomore Matt and freshman Pat Johnson, who have been competing on regional tennis circuits for years. Their mother, Janie, played at the collegiate and pro levels.

The twin brother tandem of Marco and Jack Gooding will be pushing for the No. 2 doubles spot.

“We look pretty good and we have a lot of depth,” Smith said. “After a couple matches, we should be at full strength and we’ll see what this team can really do. The down side is we see Galena and Reno in the first two weeks, so we just won’t know how we stack up against the best teams.

“I think the playoffs are definitely a goal for this team. We need five wins to get there. We see Damonte and Reed in the first week and those will be extremely important matchups for us.”

For as much work as the team has been putting in during the offseason, the most-improved player may be, surprisingly, TenBroeck. TenBroeck spent the offseason working with former University of Nevada coach Kurt Richter.

“After winning state, James could have rested on his laurels a bit,” Smith said. “But he has continued to push himself and he’s improved every shot he has.

“He’s not accepting the idea that he has what it takes already. He’s constantly pushing his game to take it to the next level.”

Smith said that former Douglas coach Mike McLaughlin has been working with the team over the summer as well, primarily on fundamentals and technique.

“He’s really been bringing them along,” Smith said. “He’s been at every practice and is just a great guy, a tremendous asset, to have around.”

Smith, who works at GE Energy in the Valley, said he also credited his supervisor, Chuck Tuggle, for allowing him the time and support to coach the team.

“I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity and privilege to coach this dynamic group of athletes,” Smith said.