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Colleges, weather cooperate with prep tennis programs

In a game where winners are known to occasionally leap over the net in order to shake the hand of the vanquished, it’s not surprising to see the greater community open its arms to the next generation.

It’s a welcome invitation.

“It’s big,” West Valley boys tennis coach Jamie Nilles said. “Any time you get the chance to hit with better competition, it’s going to make you a better player.”

In the Great Northern League, an open door to a college tennis court is a big plus.

West Valley has that kind of relationship with the Community Colleges of Spokane – a product of its long history with the Sasquatch’s coach, Wally Heidenson, himself a West Valley graduate.

“One of our girls is playing at SCC right now,” Nilles said. “I think it’s just as important for our kids that they can go up and play at Whitworth from time to time.

“Clarkston has a great relationship with Lewis-Clark State and that’s been a big help to that program. It helps that they generally have better spring weather than we have up here. They already seem to be on the court playing long before we can.

“But they also have a working relationship with the college, where their kids can pay something like $5 and play all day on their indoor courts.”

For once, spring weather has cooperated with tennis and the league season is progressing as scheduled. In most seasons in recent memory, the season “schedule” was seen more as a general guideline with games canceled and rescheduled so regularly that the season eventually played out with no resemblance to the original plan.

“We’ve only had one match rained out this year and we’ve already made that one up,” Nilles said. “Even when we’ve had a little rain, it’s been in the morning or at night, after our match, and we’ve been able to get our work in or get our match in.”

That’s paid off as the Eagles, for one, have played a string of three-set matches.

“I think it’s helped,” the coach said. “You can condition, but to really get into match shape you have to play matches. When we’ve had to play three-setters, we’ve been strong and played well.”

GNL tossup

 The GNL has been down somewhat with boys tennis, Nilles said.

“We’ve got good players, but as I’ve been talking to other coaches, we’ve pretty well agreed that we don’t quite have the top-level players that we’ve had before,” he said.

With roughly three weeks left in the regular season, the league has yet to sort itself out.

“The way the league is set up now, we only play each team once,” Nilles said. “Most of us also play each other in non-league matches so we end up playing twice, but only one official league match.

“Right now, Pullman and Clarkston are kind of fighting things out, but West Valley is still in the middle of it. Our singles players, Chris Meyers and Zack Smith, are good, and our doubles team, Trevor Cooper and Jeff Wilhelm, is very good.”

The GNL boys path to state is different from the one set for the girls this season.

Boys tennis must go through a regional tournament before qualifying to play at state; girls will send two teams directly to state from the district tournament.

Crowded at the top

Gonzaga Prep’s Alex Marcinkowski has proven himself to be the top singles player in the Greater Spokane League this season, coming off a fourth-place finish in last year’s State 4A state tournament.

Statewide, last year’s state champion, Mitch Stewart of Federal Way, also returns after a 25-0 season last year as a sophomore. Also back is third-place finisher Vicente Varas of Eastlake.

All three players finished 2012 in the top 10 of the Pacific Northwest junior tennis rankings. Stewart was ranked No. 1 by a substantial margin over Varas, the No. 2. Marcinkowski, the highest-ranked player in Eastern Washington, was ranked No. 9.