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Dual match streak ends for boys tennis team

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Chris Erbin hits a shot during last Tuesday’s league match against Lakeridge. Erbin, a sophomore, will be the Lions’ number one singles player this season after playing doubles last year.

Last season marked the end of an era for the West Linn boys tennis team. In 2006, the Lions captured another league title culminating with a solid performance at state.

This year the team still has plenty of talent, but it is not the favorite to win the Three Rivers League. And, in the Lions' first league match of the season, they fell to Lakeridge 6-2 on a cold and windy afternoon.

In an earlier match against Sunset, traditionally one of the strongest programs in the state, West Linn lost 7-1, which broke a school-record 56-match winning streak, dating back to the 2002 season.

The fact that West Linn has been able to reload and remain dominant in a very competitive league for five straight years is a remarkable feat. But even though the streak has finally come to an end, there is still reason for optimism.

'The new streak we're trying to start is for consecutive days where we improve,' coach Ward Lewis said.

Lewis is also quick to point out that his team boasts an average 3.8 grade point average this year.

'We have a number of great students. Now it's a matter of getting them to react instead of over-thinking things,' Lewis said.

Perhaps the biggest bright spots this year are the team's first and second singles players. Last year, the Lions' first doubles team consisted of a pair of freshmen, Chris Erbin and Miles Rifkin.

This season, the now-sophomores have been split up to play singles, making West Linn's line-up formidable at the top.

Erbin is the team's top singles player this season and has already turned in some impressive matches. Against Sunset, Erbin won the team's only match, besting the Apollos' top singles player, Albert Song, in straight sets.

Against Lakeridge, on an unseasonably cold afternoon, Erbin competed well against the Pacers' top player, senior Sean Eberle but fell in straight sets.

Rifkin won a three-set battle at second singles, taking down Lakeridge's Don Bagwell 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, but the Lions struggled on the doubles side of the bracket, which has traditionally been the team's biggest strength.

West Linn's only other victory came at fourth doubles where Kyle Wickert and Sam Tingey won 6-2, 6-2. However, even though the Lions competed well in many of the other matches, Lakeridge came out on the winning side of the close decisions.

'We didn't adapt well to the weather and the result was that we didn't serve or return well. It's too bad that our league opener was with Lakeridge. This team works hard and I really think it's going to come together,' Lewis said.

At fourth singles, Danny Walinski fell in three sets, dropping a pair of tiebreakers in the process.

Also losing in three sets was the second doubles team of Collin Bundy and Brett Wright 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.

Lewis knows that his team has plenty of room for improvement and believes that West Linn could defeat Lakeridge when the teams square off again. However, Lake Oswego is the odds on favorite to win the league this year as they have a number of talented individuals and boast the deepest squad in the conference.

Needless to say, the Lions will face plenty of strong competition this season.

Not only will they see the Pacers and Lakers twice, but they will once again participate in the Jesuit Invitational and they will make a trip to Medford for another tournament later this spring.

And Lewis hopes that those matches will get his team battle-tested heading into the district meet.

'We still have high goals for ourselves,' Lewis said.

West Linn will not face Lake Oswego until after spring break and is slated for a rematch against Lakeridge in April. When the two teams meet again, they will play on West Linn's home courts.