Low numbers don’t equal low spirits for Eagles

Klahowya boys tennis coach Bruce Pemberton leads his team in stretching excercises at practice Friday morning. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Klahowya boys tennis coach Bruce Pemberton leads his team in stretching excercises at practice Friday morning.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

Klahowya boys and girls tennis coach Bruce Pemberton is glad to see the sun shining. After a girls tennis season plagued again by rainouts, Pemberton was basking in the sunlight, even if summer’s drawing to a close.

“It’s nice,” he said. “I wish we had this kind of weather during the girls season. The weather is warm, the guys are breaking a sweat.”

With just 12 players out this year, Pemberton’s Eagles are small as usual. And with the Olympic League expanding from three singles and two doubles to three singles and four doubles, Pemberton said his squad expects to concede some individual matches. But with the talent he has on the team, he’s convinced that doesn’t necessarily mean less team wins.

“We may have to forfeit the No. 4 doubles,” Pemberton said. “We just don’t have the bodies. But that doesn’t mean we can’t win.”

With top returner Chris Zumdieck, a state qualifier last year, deciding to try out football, Pemberton will be relying on a mix of first-year players and returners, all with experience, to make the difference.

First-year player Clark Hurd, filling the No. 1 spot, is one Pemberton expects to help lead the way.

“He’s got a very nice swing,” he said. “It’s probably almost the nicest swing I’ve seen on a kid in a long time. He’s had lessons, but he never played before. He’s a good thinking athlete.”

Hurd personifies the Eagles, a team of athletes that use their skills to make up for tennis technique.

“They’re athletic,” Pemberton said of the group. “They’re like (2006 Klahowya grad) Morgan Gray. “This is a very athletic team. They’re all multi-sport athletes.”

Austin Carlson will be in his fourth year with Klahowya, although his second with varsity. Most of the players are two-year Eagles. Carlson will likely team up with Phillip Alessi, whose game has progressed night and day from last year. Pemberton said Alessi took lessons since last year, and it’s shown.

“He did it,” Pemberton said. “Basically what it did is he made varsity.”

Kurtis Pitcher will be a nice left-handed option for Klahowya as well, and Brandon Smith-Wheeler also will play a key role. Jeff Jaeckel will be the No. 2 singles player.

“He’s very athletic,” Pemberton said of Jaeckel. “We’re working on his ground strokes so he can rely on them a little more under pressure.”

As for the rest of the doubles, Pemberton said it’s still too early to see how those teams will shape up. And with a new format, he said they may not be able to fill the final every time.

“We haven’t filled out the lower end of doubles,” Pemberton said. “We had the bodies last year. But part of the reason (the league expanded the format) is to add a little more legitimacy to the league. And it gets more kids out there.”

Getting more kids out is something Pemberton is hopeful can still happen this season. he said he plans to hang flyers once school starts to entice newer players to turn out for the team.

“I wish there was more of them, but we still might pick up some guys,” he said.

But perhaps the biggest addition to the Eagles’ boys team this year is volunteer assistant coach Rick Ellis, who also was the personal coach for Klahowya girls player Shelby Hunter.

“It’s nice to have that resource,” Pemberton said. “He’s an expert at stroke diagnosis. He knows exactly what’s happening when you hit a ball wrong.”

Overall, Pemberton said there’s one way he can tell how far along this year’s group already is.

“Usually I start the season being able to beat them,” he said. “Already I can only beat half.”

Klahoywa opens the season by hosting Central Kitsap at 4 p.m. Thursday.

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