Sports

Staudenraus counted on to pace SK netters

SCHEDULE

Date Opponent

Sept. 8 at Foss

Sept. 10 Bellarmine Prep

Sept. 17 at Olympia

Sept. 22 Mount Tahoma

Sept. 24 at Gig Harbor

Sept. 29 Central Kitsap

Oct. 1 at Wilson

Oct. 6 Stadium

Oct. 8 at Shelton

Oct. 13 Lincoln

• All matches begin at 3:30 p.m.

Coach: Todd Olson, eighth season.

Key returners: Fred Bell, sr.; Gavin Klein, sr.; Dakota Giddings, soph.; Zach Prince, jr.; Isaac Roinas, jr.; Blake Staudenraus, jr.

Key departures: Chris Hardwick, graduated; Sasha Stearns-Droker, graduated; Ryan Wernet, graduated; Dusty Wilkins, graduated.

Top newcomers: Austin Hammer, fr.; Matthew Lyman, fr.; Chris Snead, soph.; Keegan Stierle, soph.; Austin Wilson, fr.

After two years of adjustments, South Kitsap junior Blake Staudenraus stands firmly as the school’s No. 1 tennis singles player.

As a freshman at Cedar Heights Junior High, Staudenraus was just months removed from the culture and climate of Italy.

Last year, he made the transition to the top singles position after Dalton Vavra graduated. It was a struggle at times as Staudenraus finished with a losing record. Couple that with the absence of coach Todd Olson, who was being treated for a serious illness, for most of the season and Staudenraus said it was a challenging year.

“It was hard for me and the team altogether to get our mentality up because we were worried about him,” he said. “It’s good to see him out here on the court.”

Olson declined to discuss specifics about his illness other than to say he feels well now.

And he’s excited that he again gets to watch his program and see the progression of Staudenraus and others.

“The second year at number one is where they usually come out of their shells,” said Olson, referring to Staudenraus. “He kind of took his lumps.”

Staudenraus, who was just 5 feet tall when he arrived two years ago, has grown seven inches the last two years.

“His game has grown up, too,” Olson said. “He’s got more weapons now. He was just pushing the ball back and now he dictates the game more.”

Sophomore Dakota Giddings might be just as entrenched as the second singles player. Olson said he is impressed with Giddings’ work ethic, citing a summer spent playing at the Bremerton Tennis & Athletic Club.

The Wolves haven’t sent a player to state since Vavra advanced in 2007, but Olson thinks that could end this year.

“I think Blake, Dakota and whoever we have at doubles can make it,” he said. “I think we have a really good shot all-around with our guys this year.”

Staudenraus and Giddings both have eligibility beyond this year, but Olson has made it clear to them, and the entire team, that inexperience won’t be an excuse not to succeed this season.

“It’s kind of the year to grow up,” he said. “It’s time to step up and see what we’re made of.”

The squad’s most experienced tandem — seniors Fred Bell and Gavin Klein — likely will move up to No. 1 doubles. They alternated between the second and third team in 2008.

“We know each other so well that communication is a breeze,” said Klein, who also played defender of the school’s state championship boys soccer team. “It’s a lot of fun to play together.”

A couple of returning juniors, Zach Prince and Isaac Roinas, also saw varsity time last season and are among those battling for positions on the final two doubles teams. Olson also mentioned newcomers such as sophomores Keegan Stierle and Chris Snead and freshmen Austin Hammer, Matthew Lyman and Austin Wilson as others competing for positions on the final two doubles teams.

“It’s going to be a fight down at the bottom,” he said. “We have a lot of kids wanting those last varsity spots.”

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