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Viking tennis kicks off season

by: Chase Allgood, Forest Grove junior Brett Baumgartner smacks a forehand during last Tuesday’s season-opening match against Dallas.

Forest Grove opened the 2008 tennis season with a pair of victories against former rival Dallas last Tuesday.

The boys won their match at home by a score of 6-2 with wins in three closely contested three-set matches. The girls' match ended under the lights in Dallas with the Lady Vikings winning four three-set matches for a 5-3 win.

Junior Brett Baumgartner (6-1, 6-2) and sophomore Jordan Miller (6-1, 6-1) helped build the foundation for the boys' victory with straight set wins at first and second singles. Senior Serge Schar and junior Tyson Heesacker added to the lead with a 6-0, 6-2 win at No. 2 doubles.

Dallas fought back, earning wins at the No. 3 positions in singles and doubles. Seniors Harrison Kistler and Steven Dean came through in one of the toughest matches of the day, winning No. 1 doubles 6-7 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (4).

With Forest Grove leading 4-2, the match was still open for a tie-breaking victory by either team until senior exchange student Max Stumpfe came up with a three-set win at No. 4 singles.

'It was an interesting match to watch and understand,' said Forest Grove head coach Rich Taylor. 'Both players are exchange students from Germany and I couldn't understand a word they were saying to each other through the entire match.'

Sophomore Stephan Clark and freshman Max Wilson-Fey closed out the match with a three-set victory (6-3, 6-7, 6-1) at No. 4 doubles.

The Vikings needed to adjust their ladder, moving sophomore Tony Hodges to No. 3 singles about 30 minutes prior to the match when it was reported that junior Spencer Kemp was absent due to an illness.

Forest Grove team captain Cameron Rutledge, a junior and the Viks' former No. 2 singles player, also missed the match due to cancer treatment for lymphoma.

'Cameron is one of the most positive players I have ever coached and even due to his extreme illness he has lead and inspired many of our team members to step their game up to the next level of play,' Taylor said. 'Cameron was allowed to play a JV singles match, changing to play left-handed instead of right from his medical condition and pulled out an 8-1 victory.'

The Forest Grove girls team has the potential to be the deepest in decades, but Taylor said he is still working out the ladder for singles and doubles due to the loss of three of the team's top six returning players.

Sophomore Diana Willison had to drop out of school due to an illness and senior Brittany Rierson has a tooth infection that has kept her out of practice for nearly two weeks. Another senior is also missing from the team.

Even with the loss of those players, Taylor had praise for the 33 girls on the roster who, he said, will work hard to fill the holes in the lineup.

The Dragons and Vikings split the singles side of the dual with Dallas's Becca Cudmore defeating Forest Grove junior Leith Parson 6-0, 6-2 in the No. 1 position and senior Sarah Walls earning a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 win over Erin McBride.

Junior Candice Swanger won the No. 4 singles match for the Lady Vikings, 6-1, 6-1, while sophomore Michele Vandehey lost at No. 3 singles in straight sets.

'It was Michele's first opportunity to play singles and although there were many very well played shots her opponent was able to use a powerful serve to keep Michele in a defensive position,' Taylor said.

The final overall result came down to the experience and conditioning of Forest Grove's doubles teams, as the Lady Vikings won three of the four doubles matches.

Senior captain Traci Vanaken and sophomore Bea Kemp pulled out a close 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 1 and seniors Milaine Dickinson and Charlie Ganje followed with another three-set win at the No. 2 position, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Because of losses at first and third singles and lost sets in the top two doubles spots, Dallas still had the potential to win the match by tie-breaking criteria if the Dragons could win the last two doubles matches.

Dallas pulled out a straight-set win at No. 4 over junior Rita Hepler and senior Eva Horakova, which brought the fate of the match down to the team that won No. 3 doubles.

Forest Grove senior Grace Yinger and sophomore Natalie Hymes won the first set 6-4 and Dallas fought to a 5-1 lead in a second set tie-breaker before the duo of Yinger and Hymes won seven of the last eight points to seal the win for Forest Grove.

Taylor said he was very pleased with the performance of all the players in the opening round of the 2008 season.

'Goals set last year by players will be hard to reach due to the illness and loss of some of each of our team's top players,' he said. 'Fortunately because of the depth of the girls team we should still be competitive with most teams. This is the first year we have not had a freshman make it to the starting 12 in the nine years I've coached here, although two -Lauren Wilber and Candice Hundley - still could reach that level if they keep working hard and improving as they have during preseason.'

Because of the strength of the retuning players at the top to the boys lineup and Rutledge's potential return, the Vikings could be in the race for the Pacific Conference title.

'The boys have recruited two extremely athletic players, Jordan Tanous and Josh Matiaco to our team, and even though they are in their first year of playing the sport they will add lots of strength to the lineup as the season progresses,' Taylor said. 'It's rare to see improvement so quickly in first-year players, now it's getting them the experience so they can understand strategies needed in the game.'