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Tualatin holds off Tigard in opener

Boys tennis: Both teams are taking high hopes into the 2008 Pacific Conference season
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, TOUGH TIGER — Tigard High School senior Anthony Breitenbach gets ready to hit the ball on his way to victory in No. 1 singles play in Tuesday’s match.

TIGARD - Tualatin entered the 2008 boys tennis season with Pacific Conference title aspirations.

Despite missing its No. 2 singles player, Tigard nearly put those on hold before falling 6-3 to the Timberwolves in Tuesday's league opener at Tigard High.

The Tigers won hard-fought matches at No. 1 singles and doubles but Tualatin swept the other four singles matches and won once in doubles play to build off of a strong start for first-year coach Shem Malone.

Tualatin features nine seniors in its new 13-member varsity lineup with the addition of a No. 5 singles match in 2008 Pacific play.

'As far as I know, we're the most experienced team in the league,' said Malone, a Tualatin assistant before taking last season off to be with his newborn child. 'I will be disappointed if we don't win the league and district titles. We should compete with everybody.'

Tigard did across the board against the Wolves on Tuesday, but fell to 0-1 in league under new coach Jack Cullen, who spent 32 years as a coach in Vermont before retiring to Arizona then relocating to be close to his grandchildren.

'There's a lot of potential here,' Cullen said. 'When everybody gets on the same sheet of music, this is going to be a good band.'

The Tigers were without No. 2 singles player Kevin Xiong, a junior who is undefeated.

Returning district champion Anthony Breitenbach, a senior, fought off Tualatin senior John Stromberg for a 6-1, 7-6 (7-2) victory at No. 1 singles. Breitenbach started fast before Stromberg picked up steam.

'He started working the ball more and counter-punching when I hit a soft shot,' Breitenbach said. 'It's going to increase my level of play and make me practice harder.'

Stromberg led much of the second set and 6-5 after an ace but Breitenbach used a blistering forehand down the sideline to force a tiebreaker. There, he moved ahead 5-1 before winning.

Stromberg started playing as a sophomore and was Tualatin's No. 3 last season but worked hard in the offseason.

'My footwork has improved and I'm getting under the ball on lower shots,' Stromberg said. 'In the second set I started to believe I could push it to a third set.'

And Stromberg, who Malone said 'gets better and better every time I watch him play,' nearly did before the hard-hitting Breitenbach closed strong

'As soon as state was finished I was practicing for next season,' said Breitenbach, who advanced to the semifinals of the state consolation bracket. 'The goal last year was to go two rounds. This year, the goal is to place at state.'

No. 1 doubles also was a battle between returning state qualifiers from Tigard and a Tualatin upstart trying to earn their keep.

The Tigers' duo of junior Andrew deBlanc and Jeff Rogers rallied from a 5-1 deficit in a first set tiebreaker for a 7-6 (8-6) win then closed with a 6-4 victory.

'They felt they had it, but our passion was there,' Rogers said. 'We wanted it more.'

'We both know each other real well,' deBlanc added. 'We don't get angry like other teams.'

Rogers missed an overhead shot at the net, but deBlanc scrambled behind him for a winner to knot the score at 5-5 in the tiebreaker. Tualatin senior Andrew Larson and junior Jacob Nokes took a 6-5 lead before deBlanc's winner at the net and Tualatin hit long on set point.

'We gave them a run for their money,' Larson said. 'Coach told us to forget about it, but we couldn't finish it. I was off today. Jacob carried us.'

Larson and Nokes play doubles in racquetball and decided to do the same in tennis.

'I think we communicate better than most teams,' Larson said. 'I think we can compete with the best doubles teams.'

'We have different styles,' Nokes added. 'He's better at the net and I'm better at back. I think we have a great shot of going to state.'

Rogers and deBlanc plan on returning.

'He serves so dang fast, they lob it back and I can smash it,' deBlanc said. 'If you can control the net, you can control the match.'

Despite wins at No. 1 singles and doubles, Tualatin took control by sweeping the final four singles matches. Senior Leo Edmunson beat Tigard senior Brandon Sandefur 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 at No. 2. Junior Jacob Potter won 6-1, 6-2 at No. 3 over Tiger junior Minson Yang. Junior Zach Munger earned a 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 victory over Tigard's Pasha Golestein at No. 4 singles. Freshman Jason Nguyen's 6-1, 6-1 win over Zack Russel clinched Tualatin's team victory.

Tualatin seniors Brock Tillotson and Derek Yagi won 6-0, 7-6 at No. 2 doubles. Tigard seniors Andrew Dixon and Daniel Werner earned a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory at No. 3. Tualatin senior Michael Nicholson and sophomore Eric Romrell won 6-4, 6-1 at No. 4 doubles.