Austin Sharma attempts an acrobatic forehand during a recent Mt. Rainier boys tennis practice on the Mt. Rainier High School courts.
Ram boys tennis armed to compete
By Gerardo Bolong
Strength in its vast arsenal of returning, experienced players headlines this season's Mt. Rainier boys tennis team as it expects to improve from last season's South Puget Sound League North Division 3-7 fourth place finish while also trying to better its post season experiences.
"We've got more to work with in terms of experienced starters and contributors from last season," said Ram head coach Tim Lee who enters his 29th year at the Ram helm. "We expect all our matches to be competitive and we want improve our record as we get better with each match. Last season, we were not as successful as usual in post season play, so we want to get farther there, also."
Seniors Justin Fortner and Daniel Russell did not turn out, but Lee still has eight solid players back from last season.
Returning starters from last season begin with seniors Tyler Andrews and Kepe Bonner who advanced as far as divisional play as a doubles team last year. Senior Sam Verbon started last year and also reached divisional action. Other returning starters are seniors Kevin Nguyen and Austin Sharma plus sophomore Milan Crone. Junior Anantish Vashist played some varsity while sophomore Danny Vujic spent half of last season as a varsity player.
"I learn something every year I come back," Sharma said. "In my second year as a captain, I want to be a better leader and guide people to be better as a team. This is supposed to be the golden year. in post season, we want to get to districts and make the best of our time."
Under the tutelage of Lee with assistant coaches Phil Mathison and Steve Quesinberry, the Rams will be a force to be contended with.
Bonner's biggest improvement is in his approach to the game.
"I've improved a lot in my mental game," he said. "I have a greater sense of how to deal with things. State is the big goal."
The team is still working hard to find the proper mix of doubles and singles players, but Verbon also has some personal goals.
"Consistency," he said. "I'm going for more volley shots and approaches to the net. I'm better at running to the ball and would like to get to district and state."
As far as predictions about division and the entire SPSL 4A, coach Lee identifies the usual suspects as teams to beat.
"In the North, (defending champion) Kentridge will be tough and then (last season's second place) Kentwood are tough. Then, comes (last season's third place) Tahoma. Thomas Jefferson won the Central and has strong returners. Defending South champion Puyallup has a legacy of winning."