Tuesday, March 29, 2011/lk
Many Hood River sports teams have counted their blessings with a drop to the 5A classification this year, with a chance to compete against schools that are a similar size. Others wished they could have stayed at 6A to "compete against the best."
You will not be finding the Hood River Valley tennis teams in either camp.
The Eagles are in a hybrid league, combining the four Columbia River Conference schools with the three Bend-area 5A schools in the Intermountain conference.
The top four players in the district tournament will make it to state, and that doesn't figure to be an easy task, with both the boys and girls sides in the league sporting a highly talented field.
That should not be interpreted to mean the Eagles are without hope.
Both boys and girls teams have very strong No. 1 doubles teams that badly want to get state, including a girls duo that won the 6A consolation championship last season.
On the boys side, Jon Goatcher and Luke Ihle have been playing together for three years.
The 5A singles field is stacked with Summit's Paxton Deuel as one of the top returning players in the state.
Summit and Hermiston both sent doubles teams to state last year, but that still leaves two spots up for grabs and Ihle and Goatcher would love to have one.
"I want to go to state this year," Ihle said. "Hermiston and Summit are going to be tough so we're going to have to play good tennis."
To keep them on their toes, HRV coach Jon Hiatt has been rotating Ihle, Goatcher and No. 1 singles player Josh Ziegner through singles and doubles.
"It's hard switching back and forth between the styles," Goatcher said.
The Eagles are a team heavy on experience with seven seniors and Ziegner, Ihle and Goatcher are the cream of the experienced crop.
"They are kind of that next level above," Hiatt said.
Hiatt knows the Eagles are jumping into a tough league, with Hermiston and all of the Bend schools figuring to make competition tough for state spots, but believes his team has what it takes to hang with them.
"If we finish in the top part of the league I would feel pretty good about this season and that we accomplished something good," he said.
On the girls side McKenzie Kerr and Kirra Paulus have been playing together for significantly less time than Ihle and Goatcher.
In fact they didn't play together at all during the regular season last year before being turned into a doubles team for the district tournament.
That plan worked out fairly well.
Paulus and Kerr wound up winning the consolation championship at 6A.
And that was after playing only a few matches together.
Now they look forward to seeing what they can do with a whole season together.
"It's going to help playing together as a team," Kerr said, adding with a laugh. "We'll get that telepathic communication."
After losing their first match at last year's state tournament Paulus and Kerr rallied to win four straight and take third place.
Kerr, a senior, and Paulus, a junior, lead a team loaded with upperclassmen.
The Eagles have 10 seniors and the team has been busy playing all year-round.
"So many people played over the summer," Paulus said.
For the HRV singles players Frances Burns and Celine Lentz lead the way. Younger players like Teal Munos and Emily Zeighner also figure to have an impact.
Coach Leslie Kerr is hoping that the depth of the Eagles singles group will allow them to compete for a few spots in the state tournament.
"We have pretty deep in singles," she said. "We're pretty deep all the way through."
Her players are ready for the challenge that the new league will bring. They hope that their depth gives them a shot at the team league title and that their dynamic doubles team again makes a deep run in the state tournament in May.
"We can win; we certainly have a chance," McKenzie Kerr said.
"It's doable," Paulus added.
Both teams share the sentiment and think they have the skills to not just get one player or one doubles team to state this spring, but a few.
"With every loss we learn something new," Josh Zeigner said. "We enjoy the challenge."