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Bryan Gomez and Juan Alfaro team up to beat Stayton, giving the Bulldogs a 5-3 victory over the Eagles

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn teammates Bryan Gomez and Juan Alfaro won the boys tennis teams first doubles game of the season last week, beating the No. 1 team from Stayton 7-5, 7-6.As the Woodburn boys tennis team prepares for the coming district qualifying tournament this month, the Bulldogs reached a significant milestone last week — the team won its first doubles match of the season.

Woodburn's No. 1 doubles team of Bryan Gomez and Juan Alfaro gutted out a tough match over Stayton's top doubles team of Justin Large and Roman Cary, beating the Eagles 7-5, 7-6 on Tuesday, April 23.

The individual victory was crucial in helping to deliver a 5-3 win over one of Woodburn's league rival. The Bulldogs have long been carried by its singles teams this season as the program's inexperienced doubles teams have steadily worked their way up to a competitive level.

Many of Woodburn's team victories this year have come in duels in which the Bulldogs swept the singles matches and were in turn swept in doubles matches. As a result, the singles players were pressured to win their matches in less games than their doubles teammates lost their matches, giving the Bulldogs a razor thin margin of error.

With the doubles win over Stayton, it not only meant Woodburn won the match outright after another 4-0 sweep by the team's singles players, it also represents the growth that head coach Tom Lonergan has been seeing this season among his doubles teams that he hopes will carry over into the summer and the seasons to come as his young players continue to learn.

"We moved (Juan) about three matches ago to first doubles," Lonergan said, teaming him up with Gomez, who has been a member of the Bulldogs' top doubles team all season. "He's starting to play well, keeping the ball in play. It's kind of new to him playing doubles, so he's adjusting now. He played well yesterday. He's got a really good serve."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn's lone senior this year, Roman Sonnik, continues to play his way into the season after recovering from a broken hand earlier this spring.Another wrinkle in the transition is a change in strategy, where Lonergan has asked his doubles teams to compete in the I-formation, having the front player stand in the middle of the court rather than choosing the opposite side of his partner.

"He can go to either side, but you don't know which side he's going to, so it throws off the receiving team," Lonergan said.

The gambit worked for Gomez and Alfaro, and nearly paid off for the Bulldogs' No. 3 singles team of Andrew Levko and Andres Manetieff, which lost in a pair of close sets, 6-4, 7-5.

The singles team once again swept, with Jonathan Swenson, Roman Sonnik, Job Aquino and Vlad Gridiner winning six of seven sets against their Stayton counterparts. The one loss came in the opening set between Swenson and Hayden Home in the No. 1 singles match. Swenson fell 6-4 to open his match, but rallied to win the next two by decisive 6-0 and 6-2 margins, giving him the victory.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn's top singles player, sophomore Jonathan Swenson, will enter the district tournament as a top four seed and is the Bulldogs top contender to qualify for the state tournament this year.Swenson has been Woodburn's top singles player all season after playing his freshman year at No. 1 doubles in 2018. After a streak of wins to start the season, Swenson has cooled off a bit against some of the tougher competition in the Oregon West Conference.

"Jonathan is struggling a little bit," Lonergan said. "Losing his first set was a little indication. He needs to hit out and play up to his ability, and I think he has a shot to go to state."

Despite the recent difficulties, Swenson will finish the season as one of the top four seeds in the district, putting him on a path toward a state playoff berth if he can reach the semifinals of the district tournament hosted by Madras on May 2.

"He's been our best singles player," Lonergan said. "He just needs to step up and play to his best ability, and when he does that, he plays pretty well."

Sonnik, the team's lone senior, will face a more difficult path to the state tournament after a slow start due to recovering from a broken hand coming into the season.

"Roman's path is a little tougher, so he's got to beat some people who are seeded," Lonergan said.

Regardless of how the team does, Lonergan is excited to continue working with the team throughout the summer off season and bring back nearly a full squad of returning players for the 2020 season.

"All these guys are coming back next year, so I'm getting optimistic," he said.

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