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Wagstaff welcomes new season

Even on a stunningly beautiful spring afternoon, longtime Mead boys tennis coach Bill Wagstaff was reluctant to look too far ahead.

The 68th annual Inland Empire tennis tournament is two months away, but the coordinator isn’t ready to think about entries, seeds or draws.

“The time to start thinking about things like that is the Wednesday of the week before the tournament starts,” said Wagstaff, in his 36th year coaching the Panthers. “Right now I don’t even have my own ladder figured out.”

For those kinds of answers, he insists, get back to him after spring break.

“We have a couple of matches under our belts right now,” Wagstaff said. “We’re going to know a lot more once we get a few more matches in and we’ve seen a few more match-ups.

“Some teams with a first-tier singles player or doubles team are going to definitely enter them in No. 1 singles or No. 1 doubles. For other teams that may not be as cut and dried. They may choose to enter a stronger player or team in the No. 2 division to see if they can win a few more points for their respective team.”

Like many area programs, Wagstaff sees his responsibility as twofold. Yes, he wants to hone his top players into the best competitors they can be. At the same time, he’s a Pied Piper for the sport he loves.

In 2010, he was honored with the USTA Starfish Award, which goes to coaches who implement a no-cut policy.

“Every year I seem to find and encourage a first-year senior to come out and play for me,” he said. “I have a couple this year. No, they’re not going to be a state-caliber player, but that’s not the point. I tell them that this is the first year of something, I hope, they will be playing for the rest of their life.”

That’s been the case with Wagstaff – who played in the Inland Empire tournament himself before going on to be a NWAACC champion singles and doubles player at SFCC and then playing at the University of Oregon.

What’s more, he said, he met his wife playing in the Inland Empire tournament.

“I was playing mixed doubles and she was playing mixed doubles and that’s how we met,” Wagstaff said of his marriage to Jo Ann Wagstaff, women’s tennis coach at Whitworth University as well as the school’s associate athletics director. A 1977 graduate of Washington State, where she was the Cougars’ No. 1 singles player for two seasons, Wagstaff has been the Pirates head coach for three decades.

Yes, Bill admits, he courted his wife on the tennis court.

“I sure did,” he laughs. “You can learn a lot about life playing mixed doubles. It’s kind of an odd duck in the Inland Empire tournament; it’s always had mixed doubles competition. In Idaho, high schools compete in mixed doubles and, of course, the USTA has mixed doubles competition.

The Wagstaff’s turned mixed doubles into a fixture of their tennis life, ranking No. 1 regionally in the 35-year-old age group.

“When I started playing mixed doubles with my wife, I wasn’t all that up in the strategy, but she educated me,” he laughed. “She fixed me.”

He now takes time out to share what he’s learned about playing mixed to his young players.

“Playing mixed can be tough for both of them if they don’t understand the game, and I try to talk to them about the strategy and about what to expect,” he said.

Because you never know what can happen.

“You know, (Community Colleges of Spokane head coach) Wally Heidenson met his wife playing mixed doubles, too,” he laughs.