Snazzy import from Italy turning heads

With the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard just across Sinclair Inlet in nearby Bremerton and the transient military workforce that comes with it, the prospect of athletes from around the country being added to — and subtracted from — South Kitsap High School’s roster on short notice is nothing new.

Even so, the Wolves’ boys tennis program isn’t accustomed to talent arriving from Naples, Italy.

“I always say it’s about time,” South coach Todd Olson said. “It seemed like we never were on the winning end of those deals.”

They were this time, when Blake Staudenrous found out that his father, Jamie, a Navy diver, would be transferred to Bremerton.

It was just the latest move for the family, which has lived in Italy three times and Florida twice.

Staudenrous said his family had just returned to Florida when his father was notified about the impending transfer.

“I’ve learned that military (families) move a lot,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll settle down here.”

The Cedar Heights Junior High freshman, who moved to the area late in the last school year, has been integrated quickly. He played against South’s No. 1 singles player, Dalton Vavra — a state qualifier last season — throughout the summer at the Bremerton Tennis & Athletic Club -- and despite his youthfulness and 5-2 frame, earned the No. 2 singles spot this season.

“I’m not intimidated,” Staudenrous said. “I’m out there to play good tennis.”

Olson said Staudenrous’ experience showed in tryouts when he beat out several veterans to earn his position. The 14-year-old played both soccer and tennis as a youth, but stuck with the latter simply because, “It’s my favorite sport. I’m better at tennis than I am at soccer.”

Similar to many young athletes, Staudenrous hopes to eventually turn professional, but notes that the sport is just one of his interests. He’s fluent in two languages — English and Italian — in addition to some French. Now, he’s working on Spanish.

“It’s pretty easy because Italian and Spanish are similar,” he said. “I can understand what (my teacher’s) saying.”

When he’s not busy with schoolwork and tennis, Staudenrous likes to watch movies. He prefers the fantasy and adventure genres — the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is his favorite — and an occasional horror flick.

That might not sound much different than many people his age, but Olson said Staudenrous provides his teammates with a different perspective.

“He just comes here with different ideas about how the world is,” he said. “On high-school teams, it’s more about learning experiences than winning.”

And Staudenrous said he also is learning.

“Learning about different cultures is a life-changing experience,” he said.

Because Staudenrous lived in Florida for four years in the 1990s, the cooler temperatures in the past week have him more excited than anything else, though.

“I can’t wait for snow season,” he said. “I’ve never been somewhere where it snows before.”

He still finds comfort in his favorite dinner, pesto spaghetti, and said the biggest adjustment so far is that the schools start late here. Staudenrous said classes began in August in Florida and Italy.

One constant has been his ability to mesh with a new crowd. Vavra teased his teammate about his stature, while Staudenrous contends he already has grown two inches since moving to Port Orchard.

The two have mutual respect for each other’s skills and Vavra said he appreciates that Staudenrous “has brought us steadiness at the No. 2 singles. It’s good to have him around.”

Olson said Staudenrous already has become a leader for the Wolves through his work ethic.

“He’s brought heart and determination,” he said. “He desires to win his match no matter how far he’s down.”

Staudenrous said he’s working toward filling the No. 1 singles role when Vavra graduates next spring.

“I’ll be eyeing that spot next year,” he said. “I need to work on my strokes and serve. Anything that involves tennis, I need to get better at.”

Olson agreed with the assessment with a caveat: his pupil already is the leading candidate to claim the top singles spot next year.

“As of right now, Blake kind of fills that,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for other kids to match his intensity for that spot.”

He’s traveled too far to let it go easily.

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