The pairing worked well for Philomath High this season. Junior Sawyer Ainsworth’s baseline hitting combined with senior Teddy Benbow’s abilities at the net racked up a lot of wins at No. 1 doubles.
Benbow had lost his state-qualifying doubles partner from the previous season to graduation and Ainsworth came into the season with experience only as a singles player. Still, they learned how to play well together for positive results.
“I think he’s playing a lot better in the back court right now hitting from the baseline … he can attack really well with his strokes,” Benbow said of his doubles partner. “I’ve been trying to get up and stay at the net as much as possible … with my size, I’m able to do some damage.”
Benbow’s background as an all-state soccer goalkeeper lends itself well to his capabilities at the net in terms of reaction, visualization, athleticism and covering space.
“Teddy is way, way better at the net,” Ainsworth said. “From my singles experience, I love playing the baseline with lots of power on my shots. So I kind of like to dominate behind the baseline and he loves to put stuff away with those nice overheads.”
Ainsworth made the adjustment from singles to doubles this season to see what kind of damage he and Benbow could do on the court together in the No. 1 slot. Part of the learning experience with the change relates to toning down his aggressive nature on the court.
“I took private lessons and learned a lot about doubles tactics,” Ainsworth said. “All of the stuff I knew translated pretty well but there’s a lot of stuff to learn with keeping my attitude up with my partner and not getting super mad — there’s an adjustment there.”
Benbow and Ainsworth have a familiarity with each other in competitive sports through soccer.
“There were a couple of games where I think we felt like it just wasn’t our day, especially Stayton — that was the one match where we really think we should have had it,” Benbow said. “We’ll play them in the quarterfinals so that game will decide who goes to state.”
Benbow’s referring to a loss in the team’s regular-season finale against Stayton’s Liam Rutherford and Jake Anderson. The winner of the match would like be seeded at districts and that’s what happened with Rutherford and Anderson at No. 4.
“It was a hot day and we had a couple of mistakes here and there and had quite a few deuce points that didn’t go our way,” Benbow said while looking back at the loss.
“We feel like we can definitely beat them,” Ainsworth said. “We know their strengths and weaknesses and now we can go in there with a new mindset — we win that match and we’re state bound.”
The pair opened district play on Tuesday at Crescent Valley with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Marist Catholic’s Asher Pellegrini and Burkeley Knight-Sheen.
“I think that was a great start to districts and helped us feel right and figure out what we need to do,” Benbow said.
On Thursday at Salem, they were scheduled to face an Estacada team and with a victory, would advance to for that valued rematch against Rutherford and Anderson.
“That’s kind of nice because you get to have a little revenge and you get fired up,” PHS coach Gary Quandt said.
Ainsworth is considering a return to singles for his senior season.
“I played doubles because I knew that we could have a really good doubles season,” he said. “But I don’t know — I might try to make a run for the No. 1 singles spot next year.”
Elsewhere in doubles, junior Gradin Fairbanks and freshman Lane Schell opened districts with a 6-3, 6-3 win over another Stayton pair. Junior Osvaldo Garcia-Bazan and sophomore Jackson Holroyd lost in the opening round to a Stayton opponent, 6-3, 6-4.. Sophomore Ethan Aynes and freshman Johnny Pickett lost a tough one to a Cascade team, 7-6, 2-6, 6-1.
Senior Dawson Beckstead had a tough draw in the first round and lost a close match to Marist Catholic junior Andrew Forsyth, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-2. Beckstead, who was seeded fourth, waited nearly six hours for his match to occur with Forsyth not able to get to the tournament until around 2 p.m. because of an academic commitment Tuesday morning.
Forsyth had also defeated Beckstead at the state tournament last season in the consolation semifinals. They didn’t meet each other during the regular season this spring with Beckstead at No. 1 singles and Forsyth playing No. 2 singles on the talent-heavy Marist squad.
PHS junior Andrew Leonard opened districts with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Estacada junior Kyle Richards and junior Owen Thomas defeated Stayton freshman Zach Flett, 6-1, 6-0.
Sophomore Jackson Rice lost to Marist freshman Alex Rickets, 7-6, 6-3 but came back to win in consolations, 8-0, over an Estacada opponent. Beckstead is also in the consolation bracket and was scheduled to face a North Marion opponent to try to advance to the quarterfinals.