JDHS tennis state-bound

Hopes high for school's 'strongest team ever'

Posted: Friday, October 10, 2008

What a difference a year makes.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Hong Kong exchange student Ling Chan led JDHS's tennis team into the 2007 state tournament as a one-girl wrecking crew of intimidation and the hands-down favorite to take the girls' singles title, which she won in dominating fashion.

This year's team lacks such a shining star, or any star at all.

So what would lead head coach Amy Skilbred to annoint the squad as the best in the program's short history? The answer: the kind of depth only developed when a school-record 50 students tough out a full season of mostly inner-squad scrimmages.

"We just have a more consistent field of players this year. Last year it was pretty clear that Ling Chan was the best girls player and our depth dropped off after that," Skilbred said. "This year we're strong in every one of the draws - even if nobody is an obvious number one in any of them."

The Crimson Bears, who finished third in team scoring at state in 2007, are hoping that depth can get them back in the top five of this weekend's 2008 State Championships at Anchorage's Alaska Clubs North and East.

Depth will also be more of a factor this season, as the old single-elimination format is replaced by a double-elimination format that utilizes a consolation bracket. Wins in consolation play will also contribute towards a team's overall score.

"I think it's a fantastic change," Skilbred said. "Kids travel from all over the state and it can be a long weekend if you lost your first game in past years."

While the talent is wide-spread, doubles squads appear to be the foundation of this Juneau-Douglas team. All three Juneau-Douglas pairs are seeded in the top four of their respective divisions.

Mixed doubles pair Merijke Coenraad and Steffan Wilcox, both seniors, are JDHS' highest seed entering today and Saturday's action. They will kick off their weekend at noon today against East Anchorage's Jesse Isaguirre and Shaylie Wight-Crask. Both players have been with the team for four years, and Coenraad brings added experience after taking fourth at state in girls' doubles in 2007.

"They've both been among our top players for several years, and they compliment each other very well on the court," Skilbred said. "They're able to talk things through while they're on the court and I can't tell you how important that is for doubles teams."

Juniors Laurel Messerschmidt and Rachel Donohoe compose the girls' doubles team, seeded fourth in this year's draw. The pair joined forces for the first time earlier this week. They will take on Service's Dezarae Bascome and Deidre Jones in the opening round at 2 p.m. today.

"They've both played a lot of doubles with a fair amount of success - just with different partners," Skilbred said. "Laurel is newer to the game but she has played well in doubles and singles - anywhere we put her. Rachel actually beat (top singles player Scenja Maier) in an upset at our team championships last week."

The boys' doubles team also features two juniors, Brian Vandor and Aaron Cohen, who enter the weekend as the fourth seed in their draw. The pair, also joining forces for the first time this week, will take on Service's Andrew Song and Pat Walgreen at 3:30 p.m. today.

"Brian has played a lot of doubles for us and has been a very strong singles player for awhile," Skilbred said. "Aaron's just coming on strong at the end of this eyar with an incredible first serve. Now he's getting the rest of the game to back it up."

All doubles matches this year will be held at Alaska Club North.

The Crimson Bears' singles players provide the team with some veteran flair and carry plenty of big stage experience between them.

Maier, a German exchange student, will be the girls' singles player this weekend. She enters the tournament unseeded, but has played extensively in tournaments growing up. She will take on East Anchorage's Michelle Taylor, who is also unranked, to kick off her weekend at 2 p.m. today.

Junior Nathan Graves will enter the tournament unseeded as JDHS' boys singles player. Some early-season losses dropped Graves out of the draw's top four spots, but winning last week's Juneau High School Tennis Championships gives him some momentum heading into the weekend. He will kick off his weekend against fourth-seeded Eric Ringstad from Monroe Catholic High School in Fairbanks.

"He's really been on top of his game lately, and I really think he's going to perform well," Skilbred said. "He's consistently been our No. 1 boys singles player for more than a year - even outside of the tennis season."

The singles matches this year will be played at the Alaska Club East.

"I think all of our players have a shot this year. It just depends if they bring their best game every time they play," Skilbred said. "If they're on top of their game I could see us finishing anywhere in that top five again."

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