The spring season is winding down to a close for the Woodburn and North Marion tennis teams, which met for a cross-town duel April 29 at Woodburn High School.
The two teams split their four matches in the final week of the regular season, and now the two programs have a week to prepare for the coming district championship tournament that will determine which players advance to the 4A Showcase in Medford this month.
Coming into the season, it was unknown if the spring athletic programs would get anything more than a shortened season after the OSAA cancelled all official post season tournaments. But after the success of the quarterfinal tournament championship brackets held for boys soccer, girls soccer and volleyball in March, 4A athletic directors put together tournament plans for spring sports as well.
"Being able to know we could extend the season by two weeks is exciting for the kids to find out," North Marion head coach Alexa Powell said. "Looking at how the district is set up, it gives our district a chance to be very-well represented at state."
While the rest of the 4A/3A/2A/1A tennis leagues have had a difficulty fielding full teams — or any teams — the Special District 2 league that Woodburn and North Marion belongs has seen significantly better turnout. Each of the nine programs have been able to field teams, making the SD2 the only one of the four leagues to see 100 percent turnout among its schools.
"A lot of places in the state aren't playing as much tennis," Woodburn head caoch Tom Lonergan said. "Not everybody's playing."
That strong participation will pay dividends in the state showcase tournament, which will be comprised of 16 participants in both singles and doubles. Due to the sheer number players in SD2 and the lack of competitors elsewhere in the state, half of the state brackets will feature players from Woodburn's and North Marion's league.
"Anybody who makes the quarterfinals goes to state, the following week down at Medford," Lonergan said.
"Half of the bracket will be from our district," Powell said. "We'll have really good representation. It opens up other opportunities for kids in our district to go who normally wouldn't get to go. I think everybody's really excited about that."
As a result, the Bulldogs' and Huskies' top singles players — Jonathan Swenson and Gage Hurst — have a chance of seeing each other in the state tournament, should things align their way in next week's district tournament.
And while Swenson is the more seasoned player after nearly qualifying for the state tournament as a sophomore in 2019, it was Hurst who had the upper hand in their match, winning in two sets 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.
"Hopefully that puts him in a good spot," Powell said. "Looking forward, I'm optimistic."
"I had him in a camp a few years ago and he's gotten better," Lonergan said. "He's a good athlete."
A member of the North Marion boys soccer team, Hurst came into the tennis season as the Huskies' top returning player, after competing in just one year of the sport as a freshman in 2019. But the junior has stayed active in the time off and has kept active in the sport in between seasons.
"During the last year, I know that he went to some camps, took some lessons and did a lot on his own," Powell said. "That obviously is great when you can do that."
And while Hurst's experience is definitely a plus on the court, Powell said it's his attitude and unwavering tenacity that is his biggest asset.
"He's just a pusher – he doesn't give up," Powell said. "He doesn't let how the match is going affect him in any way.
"Watching him play, you wouldn't know if he's winning by a ton or losing by a ton, because that's just how he is. It's not something you see very often in high school athletes. A lot of them wear their emotions on their sleeves, and in tennis you can't really do that."
With the expanded tournament field, Lonergan is hoping that gives the Bulldogs the opportunity to qualify both of his top singles players. A four-year member of the tennis program, No. 2 singles player Vlad Gridinar is putting together a strong season for the Bulldogs.
"He's in great shape – he can run like a deer – and his serve has finally gotten better," Lonergan said. "His serve was his handicap, but he's always been good on his ground strokes.
"He's finally gotten it where his serve is technically better; it's sufficient now."
Gridinar won 6-0, 6-0 against Trent Hartenstein, a newcomer for the Huskies who lacks experience and is facing each team's second-best player due to the lack of numbers this year.
"It's forced him to get better quickly," Powell said. "He's playing kids who might be a little bit above him skill-wise or experience-wise, but it's kind of trial by fire. He's definitely improved a lot."
The two programs will seed its singles and doubles teams this week, then play the first round of the district tournament at Black Butte Ranch on May 10. The remaining players will return to Black Butte on May 13-14, with the top eight players from each bracket advancing to the state tournament in Medford on May 17-18.
"We've got a ways to drive, but frankly, that is some of the most fun kids have," Powell said. "Those sorts of far away long tournaments that last a few days."
Woodburn vs. North Marion
Thursday, April 29 at Woodburn High School
Gage Hurst (NM) d. Jonathan Swenson (W) — 7-6 (7-4), 6-3
Vlad Gridinar (W) d. Trent Hartenstein (NM) — 6-0, 6-0
Tate Durst and Gavin Hurst (NM) d. Juan Alfaro and Isaak Flores (W) — 6-4, 1-6, 6-3
Andres Delgado and Isaiah Garibaldo (W) d. Alex Farrens and Kevin Rojas (NM) — 1-6, 6-3, 6-3
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