Sports

LEADING THE WAY

There has been no racket slamming, no flailing arms and no crying.

Considering the circumstances — regular matches against Bellarmine’s Suzie Matzenauer, Bremerton’s Iliana Petrova and South Kitsap’s Stephanie Davision, all of whom are state contenders — complaining would be easy for Olympic’s No. 1 singles player.

That’s just not how Erika Feltus operates, though.

“She’s always positive and encouraging no matter what happens,” said teammate and friend Rebekah Kolstad, a junior who likely will replace Feltus as the Trojans’ No. 1-singles player next year. “She’s helped a lot of beginners and encouraged them to keep working on their games during the summer.”

With a roster full of youth — the Trojans routinely have rotated sophomores into their No. 2-singles spot because of inexperience — Feltus has been left to help several teammates learn the intricacies of tennis while facing the top rivals throughout the Narrows League.

“(Olympic coach Don Patraw) puts maybe the fourth or fifth best person on the team in the No. 2 singles and he’s hoping that I win, the No. 2 gets an upset and (No. 1 doubles) Stephanie (Miller) and Rebekah get that third win,” Feltus said. “I just try and make it fun for (the No. 2-singles player). We’re usually next to each other and I try and get them to smile rather than having them feel pressure.

“Of course, we want to go out there and win, but we don’t need them to win every match. We want them to have fun and come back next year.”

Patraw said he selected Feltus as captain for reasons other than her skill on the court.

“I pick the captain and it’s not always the best player even though she probably is,” he said. “She provides a sounding board for me on what the team is thinking.”

Leadership roles mean making difficult decisions at times.

“I’m not really there to boss anyone around,” she said. “Because we had 40-plus people there, he had me check out some of the girls to see if they should be junior varsity or varsity. That’s the most power I’ve ever had. It’s never been what I say goes.”

A cocksure attitude hasn’t been a problem for Feltus — that type of attitude sometimes is viewed as a quality in a team’s top player, too.

“She’s gained some confidence when she lost to Petrova 7-5 (in March),” Patraw said. “After that I think she realized, ‘Hey, I can hang with these people.’ ”

Facing Petrova, her classmate, is more enjoyable than competing against Davison and Matzenauer, both sophomores.

“Both times I’ve taken five games off (Petrova),” Feltus said. “The first time we played, I was beating her in the first set but she got me. I’ve known her for a really long time, so it’s more comfortable playing her than Matzenauer.”

Feltus believes the difference between herself and the top singles players in the Narrows League is simple — experience.

“It makes me wish that I had started when I was younger,” she said. “You can see that they’re dedicated to what they do. Obviously, the time they’ve put into it has paid off for them.”

However, that doesn’t mean she just picked up the sport recently.

“Both my mom and stepdad played tennis,” she said. “We all play at the Bremerton Tennis and Swim Club. I played since fourth grade and when high school tennis started, I decided I wanted to focus more and improve my skills with lessons.”

The decision meant dropping another sport along the way.

“I played soccer for my freshman, sophomore and junior years, but I always ended up playing tennis around that,” she said. “I decided my senior year that I would rather focus on tennis. Soccer wasn’t a waste of time, but I wasn’t enjoying it as much.”

When she’s not playing tennis or watching movies with friends, Feltus is busy writing papers and studying for tests in her advanced-placement classes.

“School is important and I try hard in most of my classes,” she said. “I’m an average student.”

An “average” student with a 3.68 grade-point average?

Yes, average, she says.

“Most of my friends have 3.9s, so I’m average compared to them,” she said.

Trading athletic experiences for slightly better grades isn’t a trade she’s interested in, though.

“My parents asked me one day in sixth grade if I wanted to switch,” said Feltus, referring to attending King’s West as a seventh- and eighth-grader. “They thought it would be a better academic program, but it made me focus too much on academics and I wasn’t able to have a life outside of school.”

Her next experience will lead her across the Narrows Bridge to a school that has won 13 team titles in the Northwest Conference during the last 22 years.

“I went and looked at the (Pacific Lutheran University) campus and I have a couple of close friends going there,” said Feltus, who would be coached by four-time All-Northwest Conference player Janel McFeat at PLU. “I talked with (McFeat) and she’s come and watched a few of my matches. I’ve already sent in everything that needs to be sent it, but there’s a couple of papers that probably need to be filled out. It’s pretty much in the bag.

And while the Trojans may be better next year from watching Feltus battle the league’s best, they won’t forget her.

“We take lessons together and we probably see each other four times a week at lessons,” Kolstad said. “I’ll really miss her next year when she goes off to college. It will be kind of sad to see her gone.”

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