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Lewis and Clark tennis finds formula for team success

There’s a secret to Tobin Phelps’ success.

The boys tennis coach at Lewis and Clark High the past dozen years, Phelps has the Tigers in the mix for Greater Spokane League honors year in and year out, thanks in part to a steady stream of players coming into the program already equipped with junior tennis experience.

“I would say that we and Mead tend to have an advantage that way,” Phelps said. “I would probably include Ferris in that mix as well, even though they’re having a down year this year, and I would include Gonzaga Prep there, too.

“We have a substantial base of parents who love to play tennis and they have kids that grow up loving and playing the game.”

Having a steady influx of individual talent is one thing. Translating that into a winning team is quite another.

The game itself isn’t necessarily designed for team play. Singles is the game’s highest form. Doubles play rarely earns headlines at the highest levels.

Still, to win like a team you need to think like a team, and Phelps is adept at creating that mindset.

“I think the reason we’ve been successful is that we get our kids to buy into winning as a team,” Phelps explained. “Over the years we’ve had some very good players make what I would call some major sacrifices so that we could be a better team.

“The whole point is to get four wins for the team. If we do that, the team wins.”

At LC, Phelps’ secret lies in keeping the lines of communication open.

“We’re always talking about what would be best for the team,” he said. “We keep that going all season, especially as we play matches and see what happens with different match-ups.

“Even with our singles players, a lot of what we do here is doubles-based, so our guys get the chance to hit and rally a lot. That makes it easier to make changes as the season goes along. It’s not uncommon, for example, to have a kid play singles in a tournament and get knocked out in the second round. That can be a light-bulb moment and suddenly playing doubles sounds more attractive.”

The bottom line, he said, is to give his players the best chance to reach the state tournament.

Last year, Phelps and the Tigers sent a pair of freshmen to play doubles in the State 4A tournament.

Luke Brittan and Jordan Strandness qualified for state and were knocked out after just two matches.

“It was just such a great opportunity for them to get to state and see what that was all about,” Phelps said. “It was such a great opportunity that I took the two other freshmen who played for us on varsity last year so they could see what it was all about.”

This season Britton in the Tigers’ No. 1 singles player and Strandness plays No. 3 singles. Sophomore Jacob Larson and freshman Jacob Johnson are the top LC doubles team, which is undefeated in GSL play.

“They lost to Gonzaga Prep’s No. 1 doubles team in a nonleague match early this season, but otherwise they’re undefeated this season,” Phelps said. “We still have to play Prep for real a week from Tuesday. It should be an interesting match.”

Phelps said last year was an unusual year, getting four freshman arriving together to play on the varsity.

“Right now I have two seniors ( Tyler Wilson at No. 2 singles and Robbie Mick, who teams with freshman Ryan DeMars at No. 2 doubles) and one junior this year, so we’re still quite young,” Phelps said. “Right now, we haven’t lost a match as a team, and that’s remarkable.”