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CK, Oly hungry for postseason success
As the the weather cools and the courts harden, boys tennis action is heating up. While rain has dampened many past seasons, forcing games to be cancelled, mother nature has cooperated this season — for the most part — and as a result, nearly every regular season match is in the books. Area players such as Justin Hike and Cory Smith, of Olympic, and Arnel Hipolito and Ben Miller, of Central Kitsap, are sure to have a say in who reaches the pinnacle of their respective 3A and 4A postseason tournaments. Tennis playoffs begin Oct. 17 with 2A and 3A league tournaments hitting off for Klahowya and Olympic, respectively, while Central Kitsap begins the Narrows League Tournament Oct. 23 at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Here’s a look at how CK and Oly fared during the regular season and what might await as the playoffs near.
This was CK’s strongest regular season under fourth-year coach Christopher Floro. With two matches remaining — a continuation of a rained-out match against Gig Harbor and a non-leaguer against Olympic — the Cougars (8-2 overall, 7-2 league) are guaranteed to finish with at least seven league wins, up from last season’s 6-4 record.
“First off, we’ve had a great season,” Floro said yesterday. “It’s been an excellent run this season.”
The success has hinged upon the racquets of seniors Arnel Hipolito and Ben Miller, and juniors Andrew Kim and Cameron Gilman, the team’s No. 1 doubles tandem.
“Those guys have essentially carried the team on their shoulders,” Floro said of the foursome.
Hipolito is 8-2 at No. 1 singles, while Miller is 9-1 and No. 2 singles. Both are shoe-ins for the league tournament as well as state hopefuls. And while juniors Kim and Gilman are set to return next season, Flora believes they, too, could make a deep run now. The pair is 8-2.
“Going into postseason, I have some pretty high expectations,” Floro said. “I’m really confident (all four) can go far into districts and beyond.”
The team could finish as high as second in the Narrows, depending on what happens against Gig Harbor. Powerhouse Bellarmine Prep is undefeated and locked in for the top spot, while CK, Gig Harbor (one league loss) and Olympia (two league losses) all have a chance for second. If CK beats Gig Harbor, there’d be a three-way tie behind Bellarmine Prep.
“It could get a little convoluted,” Floro said.
Regardless, CK is guaranteed three slots in both singles and doubles for the league tournament.
Sophomores Thomas Sugimoto and Albert Dancel, who have team at No. 2 doubles, also figure to be postseason competitors, though Flora said he may put Sugimoto into the No. 3 singles position.
With Sugimoto, Dancel, Kim and Gilman all returning next season, CK will have a nice group back. But Floro wants to see somebody else step up.
“It’s good in some sense, but we’re going to need some younger players to step up,” he said.
In the meantime, however, Flora is pleased by his team’s success and anxious to see what happens in playoff action.
“It’s been an excellent year,” he said. “Good camaraderie, good leadership from the captains — not only great court leaders, but great team leaders.”
Any state hopes the Trojans have, hinge upon the success of No. 1 singles player, Justin Hike, and No. 2 singles player, Cory Smith. Both Hike and Smith are experienced and dominant, with Hike having won a state match last year before bowing out in the second round and Smith recently breaking the Olympic boys single season “bagel” record, sweeping 22 sets (6-0) over the course of the season.
“They’re my shotgun blasts,” coach Don Patraw said. “Justin’s my No. 1 and Cory’s my No. 2.”
Hike is a Trojan tennis staple, having been a varsity player for four years. And while his state appearance last year was his first, it probably won’t be his last.
“I’ll be real shocked if he’s not (the No. 1 seed) at districts,” said Patraw, in his 20th year coaching Olympic tennis. “Justin has been a rock for us at No. 1 (singles).”
With a low-to-the-ground, stocky build, Hike’s power and endurance make him a tough drop.
“He’s a good player, he’s very strong, he’s able to last a long time,” Patraw said. “He’s low to the ground, so he stays through his shots really well. He has a large upside.”
Smith, meanwhile, is only a junior and ready to step in when Hike departs. Undefeated on the year, Smith has cruised through No. 2 singles action.
“He’s just half-a-step behind Justin,” Patraw said of Smith. “He’s gotten stronger over the year.”
The key for both Hike and Smith is to keep playing throughout the winter, as the boys tennis state tournament is scheduled for late May of next year. Unlike girls tennis, which begins in spring and moves directly into the May state tournament, the boys have a huge layoff.
“I know they’re going to keep their game up,” Patraw said.
While Hike and Smith have led the team in stats and victories, Patraw said the entire Trojans team has been consistent all season.
“This has been a really fun team,” he said. “The kids I have, they’re so coachable.