Sports

Tennis: South Kitsap hoping understudies step up this year

Schedule

Date Opponent Time

April 12 Mount Tahoma 3:30 p.m.

April 13 at Gig Harbor 3:30 p.m.

April 15 Central Kitsap 3:30 p.m.

April 17 SK Invite 8 a.m.

April 19 at Olympia 3:30 p.m.

April 20 at Wilson 3:30 p.m.

April 22 Stadium 3:30 p.m.

April 27 at Shelton 3:30 p.m.

April 29 Lincoln 3:30 p.m.

Coach: Todd Olson, ninth season.

Key returners: Meredith Carlson, jr.; Chloe Helms, sr.

Top newcomers: Annie Espy, fr.; Kailyn Skjonsby, fr.

Key departures: Kelsie Carlson, graduated; Rae Cockreham, soph.; Emily Hulscher, graduated; Brittany Mayfield, graduated; Nicole Padmos, graduated; Crystal Polen, graduated.

It easily could be a cut sport.

But South Kitsap coach Todd Olson has maintained throughout his tenure that he will keep any girl who turns out for the tennis team.

That decision might prove critical this year as many of the Wolves’ varsity singles and doubles players are seniors whose previous experience came on junior varsity.

That does not apply to the top two singles players. Both junior Meredith Carlson and senior Chloe Helms return after playing on varsity in 2009. Carlson was a No. 2 singles player, while Helms competed in doubles with Emily Hulscher, who graduated.

“It’s more strategic than doubles,” said Helms, who is the No. 2 singles player. “There’s a lot more movement on the court and a lot more conditioning.”

For the first time since 2006, the top doubles team will not be Helms and Hulscher. Two program mainstays, seniors Amanda Debock and Meghan Leber, move up to varsity to take their positions.

“I definitely had to step up a lot and work really hard to get here,” Leber said. “I had to focus a lot more on strategy instead of just getting the ball over.”

In addition to competing at the varsity level for the first time, Debock said she and Leber never played together before this season.

“You really have to communicate when you’re on the court,” she said. “Talking is key.”

The No. 2 doubles team is comprised of junior Carissa Rill and senior Taryn Donovan, while seniors Haley Mischko and Brie Shinners are seeded third. Olson said the amount of former junior-varsity competitors moving up provides positive reinforcement for younger players in the program. South had 63 athletes turnout this year.

“It’s always nice to see those kids who just picked up a racket their freshman or sophomore year and get a lot better,” Olson said. “Most people don’t get to see the growth coaches see every day.”

One of those varsity positions came through the departure of sophomore Rae Cockreham. She was the Wolves’ No. 1 singles player last season, but Olson said she elected not to turn out this year.

“We don’t look at what we’ve lost, but what we have,” he said. “It’s always better to look forward.”

Even without Cockreham, South’s varsity players could receive challenges from freshmen Annie Espy and Kailyn Skjonsby. The latter had surgery — Olson cited privacy laws in refusing to reveal more information — and said he is not sure if she will play this year.

“We have some others who aren’t able to play that would make us a lot stronger,” he said. “Once they get healthy, they will be stepping into that varsity lineup.”

None of the varsity performers are taking their positions for granted.

“You have to be on your game,” Debock said. “Every single practice.”

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