Defending PIL 5A champs open with victory over Wilson

Advantage, Franklin. Again.

The Quakers’ boys tennis team is picking up where it left off last year, when Franklin captured its first Portland

Interscholastic League 5A championship.

Franklin opened the 2014 PIL season with a 10-8 home victory over formidable Wilson last week.

“We’ve got another competitive team,” Quakers coach Ted Salter says. “We absolutely believe we can defend our title.”

The Trojans provided plenty of competition. Each team posted four wins, and the decision went to Franklin on sets. The outcome showed that last year’s breakthrough was no fluke for the Quakers.

“I give the kids and their parents all the credit,” Salter says, adding that “probably 80 percent of the kids I get are honor students.”

That includes new No. 1 singles player Kaleb Swoverland, a junior whose brother, Nevin, won the PIL 5A district tournament a year ago as a senior.

Also back for Franklin are No. 2 singles Andrew Ng, a junior, and No. 3 man Michael Troung, a senior. Sophomore Jacob Chen has the inside track and playing No. 4, and senior Ryan Lee is right there, too.

Franklin’s top doubles team this year consists of Matthew Tetreault and Mathew Rowell, juniors who have had a couple of years together. Backing them up at No. 2 doubles are seniors Nate Ezell and David Zhang.

Salter grew up in Compton, Calif., playing basketball, baseball and football; his prep basketball team won CIF titles two years in a row, was ranked No. 1 in the nation and had a 72-game winning streak. He didn’t take up tennis until much later. He first took lessons in 1998, about three years after moving to Portland. and the Hawthorne district resident can relate to kids like those at Franklin who aren’t club players with years of youth exposure to private lessons or tournament opportunities.

One of Salter’s other pet projects is Kids N’ Tennis. It’s a nonprofit that provides youngsters around the city, and especially in North and Northeast Portland, a chance to learn the game and receive instruction.

Kids N’ Tennis receives free court time at Portland Tennis Center every Saturday morning throughout most of the year. Some players from Franklin and other Portland public schools take advantage of that to help hone their games.

“My first year at Franklin, it was rainy, so we couldn’t play (on the school’s outside courts),” Salter recalls. “I rented a court at PTC and was surprised to hear that none of my players had ever been there, even though it’s only a few miles away. They said they just felt it (PTC) wasn’t for them, like they weren’t welcome there. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”

Franklin has 22 boys on its tennis team, many of them recruited by teammates.

“Winning helps, but the kids who have played for us are our best advertising,” Salter says. “They tell other kids, ‘You should try this.’

“Last year, we were very lucky to win the championship; it came down to just a few points. But at the same time, my Nos. 3 and 4 doubles teams were guys who had never played before.

“I try not to talk about winning, in general. I tell the kids, ‘We’re going to help you develop, so you can play tennis the rest of your life.’ Because I’ve enjoyed the sport so much, we try to make it fun. If a kid is having a good time and gets hooked, he’ll want to be out there, and then we can help his game advance.

“For me, the big thing is the new kids, and to see them smiling. That tells me I’m doing something right.”

• Long-time Benson girls coach Deanne Larsell has been honored by the United States Tennis Association. She is one of 12 coaches in the nation, and the first from the Pacific Northwest, to make the USTA No-Cut All-Star Team, which salutes middle and high school coaches whose policy is to not cut students willing to try out for their team.

“It’s always been my philosophy,” says Larsell, who plans to retire as a teacher and coach after this season, which is her 20th with the Benson girls.

Larsell, a former Tech health teacher now teaching physical education at K-8 Laurelhurst, has had a long love affair with tennis. She won three state doubles championships as a player for South Albany in the mid-1970s. She laughs when recalling that she decided to switch from singles after her freshman year, partly after seeing Wilson High’s Lindsay Berman win state as a frosh (Berman would go on to win four singles titles).

Larsell went on to play No. 1 singles for Oregon State, and she continues to compete in age-group events. She is headed to the national tournament in late April in Surprise, Ariz., with a doubles league team.

Her current Benson team has 27 girls, and previous squads have been even larger. “We’re not a big school anymore,” she says.

Larsell pays tribute to other PIL coaches who also have a no-cut philosophy and wind up handling large numbers of players “all out of the goodness of their heart.”

The USTA award comes with a $500 gift. “I’ve been able to buy new grips and other things for the team,” she says.

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