Boys tennis: Woodburn duo sets eyes on state berth
With a roster predominantly composed of freshman with little competitive experience, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Woodburn boys tennis program. And yet halfway through the season, head coach Tom Lonergan thinks the Bulldogs have a very good opportunity of being represented at the state championship tournament for the second consecutive year.
"I think we have a shot," Lonergan said. "We'll wait and see."
Make no mistake, the Bulldogs are still a very young team whose individual players are building their experience through a number of losses this season. Woodburn entered last week looking to pick up its first win of the season, and did so on Thursday, beating the Central Panthers 6-3.
The team was led by its top doubles pair of senior Brian Polanski and freshman Jonathan Swenson, who were playing just their second game together and picked up their first win of the season as partners. Despite the relatively thin resume of work, Lonergan sees the potential for his top two singles players to go far in the district doubles tournament.
"This is their best chance for going," Lonergan said.
Swenson and Polanski won 6-3, 6-2 against Central top doubles team, as the Bulldogs collectively put up their best performance of the season. Second doubles team Vladamir Arellano and Estefan Cervantes bounced back from dropping their first set 2-6 to win 7-6, 6-0 in their next two, picking up their first match win of the season. That feat was duplicated by No. 5 doubles partners Vladamir Gridinar and Aaron Juarez, who won 6-4, 6-4.
On the singles side, Roman Sonnik picked up a 6-4, 7-5 victory and Jorge Perez won 6-4, 7-5 in No. 2 singles. Louis Ascencio added a 6-0, 6-1 win in fourth singles to round out the victories for Woodburn.
Swenson opened the season as the Bulldogs' top singles player, a tough position to be in as a freshman. Though Swenson entered the program with experience, he was a long shot to make a run at the state tournament due to his lack of experience combined with a relatively strong glut of singles players in the Mid-Willamette Conference.
"I didn't think Jonathan can make it in singles," Lonergan said. "He's a freshman. He hasn't played competitively, so he's got to learn how to win or lose, and he's got a little ways to go on that."
That all changed last week when Polanski joined the team. A veteran of the Woodburn tennis program, Polanski missed all of last season with a broken ankle and was unavailable for the first half of this season due to commitments to academics. But when he became available to play, Lonergan saw a window of opportunity to get Woodburn's foot in the state tournament door in the doubles tournament.
"I just thought, this is probably our only shot to get to state," he said. "Brian didn't play all last year. This year he kind of got a late start, but he's got some great strokes."
It was a natural pairing for Lonergan, though not without its bumps. Polanski and Swenson got their first chance to play together against Lebanon's top doubles team, and after dominating the first set 6-0, the pair let their foot off the gas and allowed the Warriors to come back and win the match.
"They killed them the first set, but then they started thinking too much and got scared," Lonergan said.
That set the stage for their win over Central on Thursday, followed by a 7-5, 7-5 victory against Dallas on Friday. It may be only two wins, but the two are quickly gaining momentum that could pay off at the district tournament in May.
There are still plenty of hurdles to come, the first of which comes in a match against Silverton this week, whose team is expected to be seeded in the district tournament. Much of the outcome will depend on how quickly Swenson can mature this season. Polanski enters the program this year as a known commodity, dependable and predictable. If Swenson's game can grow to match his partner in the next few weeks, it will mean a great deal toward the Bulldogs' chances at getting back to state.
"He's learning how to compete," Lonergan said after Swenson's and Polanski's win over Dallas on Friday. "He played really well. He's very solid when he's playing really good. If they play like that, they'll definitely have a shot at it."