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The Philomath High School tennis program has been riding a wave of enthusiasm in recent years. The Warriors have not only been seeing more success in district and state tournaments, but can now showcase their athletes right on campus with the construction of new tennis courts.

Philomath has some familiar names returning for a pandemic-shortened season that got started on Tuesday, but roster numbers overall are down a bit. That’s not unusual, actually, with all sports seeing fewer participants but in the case of tennis, ninth-year coach Gary Quandt has a lot of seniors and freshmen, but only a handful of juniors and sophomores. It’s most obvious on the girls’ team with 12 seniors and freshmen with just one junior and no sophomores.

Like the other spring sports in 2020, the Warriors were not able to compete last season.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the year we canceled but we didn’t have a chance to really develop those kids,” Quandt said. “We had two weeks of practice and that was it and half of those were rainouts anyway. I think all of the schools are down with their numbers. … It’s just the nature of COVID in the last year that destroyed the continuity and development of the younger players.”

On the upside, Philomath High’s tennis players don’t need to make the trip to Ashbrook Independent School in west Corvallis any longer to get in practices and duals on rented courts.

“That’s the biggest thing — just the ease for the kids and the parents, friends and relatives,” Quandt said. “They don’t have to go all the way over the Ashbrook and of course, now we’re playing on really nice courts, too, because they’re virtually brand new.”

A few familiar names can be found on the PHS boys’ roster. Dawson Beckstead, a sophomore, just played his first high school match on Tuesday but his older siblings have seen exceptional success over the past few years. In fact, the Beckstead family was among those that helped the cause of bringing new tennis courts to town.

Beckstead made his high school debut as the team’s No. 1 singles player and he rolled in his first appearance.

“He’ll be strong; there’s probably three or four really good players in the district this year and he’ll certainly be in there,” Quandt said. “Last year, I think he and his brother (Colton) both would’ve qualified for state.”

Among the other top returnees, senior Nick Stucki and junior Dylan Bell appear to be headed for a season of playing doubles together. They were entered in the season opener at No. 1 doubles and won easily.

Bell played singles as a freshman and won the consolation finals at the district tournament. Quandt said “he’s improved a ton.”

“I’m going to probably play him and Nick Stucki at doubles at least in regionals but I know Dylan wants to try some singles, so I’ll put him in some singles,” Quandt said. “I want to make sure Nick and Dylan get seeded at the district tournament so I’ll want to play them (together) half of the time at least.”

Stucki is more of a doubles specialist and as a sophomore, teamed up with Luke Haslam to win the 2019 district championship and qualify for state. Although they lost in the first round, Stucki and Haslam were able to regroup and win the consolation final.

Senior Judah Bacho and sophomore Teddy Benbow are penciled in at No. 2 doubles. Bacho is a returnee as a sophomore on the 2019 squad and Benbow was out for tennis last year when the season was canceled. Seniors Jace Barrett and Noah Curtis played together at No. 3 doubles in the opener and won easily. The coach is looking at freshmen Gradin Fairbanks and Tomas Harris at No. 4 doubles. 

Among the other singles players, Quandt has a few newcomers that he said have looked good on the court — freshman Andrew Leonard and junior Mark Grimmer.

Leonard played No. 2 singles in the opener. Quandt said he has a pretty good forehand and serve.

“He’s a new freshman coming in and is hitting the ball pretty well,” Quandt said. “I played him at 2 and he was very nervous in the first set and then he got it together and played better.”

Grimmer brings a high level of athleticism to his game.

“He’s a really good athlete and learning quick; he’ll move up the ladder as we go,” Quandt said. “He’s been really good in practice and I only have good things to say about him.”

Junior Noah Aynes is also back in tennis but enters the season on the injured list. Quandt said there also is a freshman who will likely be joining the team, possibly late this week.

For the girls, freshman Bailey Bell moves right into the No. 1 slot with exceptional skills on the court. She won 6-0, 6-0 while overpowering an inferior opponent in the season opener.

“She’s really strong,” Quandt said. “She’s going to be one of the top players in the league.”

At No. 2 singles, senior Noel Lundeen returns from the 2019 squad and Quandt said she’s shown great improvement. Senior Sierra Johnson also returns and is penciled in at No. 3 singles.

“For both of them, it’s the first time they’ve played singles,” Quandt said. “They’ve been playing doubles the last couple of years.”

Freshman Daniella Carlisle appears to have the No. 4 singles spot.

“So those are four pretty strong singles players,” Quandt said. “I don’t see us losing a whole lot of matches if I keep that lineup the way it is.”

Seniors Atira Fairbanks and Chloe Jurva head up the doubles’ teams and Quandt feels they will be strong. Fairbanks and Jurva went undefeated at No. 3 doubles during the 2019 regular season.

Junior K Bacho and senior Lily Schell are also returnees and they’ll play No. 2 doubles. The rest of the doubles lineup will be held down by freshmen. In Tuesday’s opener, Nadia Durski and Elise Reese teamed up at No. 3 and Megan Reese and Lorelei Schell were at No. 4. Another freshman, Abigail Workman, is a dual athlete who is also on the dance team. She played a pro set exhibition match on Tuesday.

Quandt, who has been the head coach since 2012, has a paid assistant in Bethany Flora, who played for him at PHS when she was Bethany Nielson. Michael Fortune returns as a volunteer assistant and works with the boys’ team.

The schedule for the two teams looks a bit imposing on paper with three matches per week for three straight weeks, although the boys will have one less competition one of those weeks because the opposing school does not have a boys program.

The district meet will then follow in early May at Black Butte Ranch near Sisters and it’s undecided if there will be any sort of state competition during the final culminating week

“The last I heard, there were a couple of coaches trying to put together an impromptu state tournament,” Quandt said. “It’s not OSAA-sponsored but it could be something for the kids who would qualify.”

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