Philomath High School boys tennis coach Gary Quandt knows who he’ll pencil into the lineup at No. 1 and No. 2 singles as the program gets ready to start a new season. But the rest of the available slots will fall into place only after the coach makes a decision on where to place Sawyer Ainsworth.
A junior for the Warriors, Ainsworth was one of four PHS players to reach the regional tournament’s quarterfinals last season. Quandt said he could place Ainsworth at No. 3 singles but he might be leaning toward pairing him with senior Teddy Benbow at No. 1 doubles.
Last season, Benbow reached the state tournament with partner Noah Aynes and won two matches.
“His partner graduated so we’re trying to find somebody to play with him,” Quandt said. “It’s possible that it might be Sawyer, or it might be somebody else. Right now, we’re just seeing how they work out in practice.”
One reason that Quandt might move Ainsworth to doubles is he likely wouldn’t have any competitive matches at No. 3 singles. If paired with Benbow, he’d be at No. 1 doubles in a more challenging environment.
“That’s a key thing,” Quandt said in reference to where he puts Ainsworth, “because everything is going to kind of stem from what he does and where I put him.”
Those top two singles players are senior Dawson Beckstead and junior Andrew Leonard. Beckstead finished runner-up at regionals last season with a loss to Cascade’s Zach Moore in the championship match. Moore, who is back this year, went on to easily win the state title. Beckstead reached the consolation semifinals at state.
Leonard reached the quarterfinals at the regional tournament.
“He lost to the No. 3 seed, a guy from North Marion — Gage Hurst,” Quandt sait. “It was a close match.”
Ainsworth missed state with his season ending in the quarterfinals at regionals against Cascade’s Moore.
“Singles was kind of our bread-and-butter last year and we should be close to that this year,” Quandt said. “Although, the doubles should be a little bit better deeper because the guys coming back are playing like second, third and fourth doubles.”
The coach said the two freshmen on the roster — Lane Schell and John Pickett — give the roster depth.
“Lane Schell … he’s just been around tennis so he’s got some skills,” Quandt said about one of those freshmen, “and so he’ll help right away.”
Jackson Rice, a sophomore home-schooled student, will be in the mix as well.
“I’m not sure but if Sawyer plays doubles, he’ll probably play No. 3 singles,” Quandt said.
As of the middle of last week, Philomath had 13 student athletes in the boys’ program. Quandt said he’d prefer to have at least 14 or 15 on the roster.
Besides the players already mentioned — Beckstead, Benbow, Ainsworth, Leonard, Rice, Pickett and Schell — others on the roster include juniors Gradin Fairbanks, Osvaldo Garcia-Bazan, Nicholas Purcell and Owen Thomas, and sophomores Ethan Aynes and Jackson Holroyd.
Philomath’s district appears to be tougher this season.
“It changes now that we have Marist in the league,” Quandt said. “The boys team was fighting for the state title with Marist, so they’re going to be really strong.”
Cascade is another team to watch, Quandt said, with a good crop of returning players.
“We’ll be fighting them out for second probably,” Quandt said. “We just missed tying them last year in the regional championship. We should be no less than third, maybe a second.”
The season is scheduled to begin Monday at home against Lebanon, weather permitting. The regular-season schedule features all duals except for the Oregon Episcopal School Invitational on April 8 in Portland.
Michael Fortune will assist Quandt again this season with coaching duties.