By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Back on the hardcourt for Mac boys

Most of the players, though, barely listened because they’ve been here before. Jokes and good-natured ribbing flew back and forth between the divided teams, but once the tennis started, the real competition started. Points were greeted by small fist pumps and smiles.

“It’s nice to see them getting after it,” Gabrielsen said.

Players weren’t being disrespectful during the pregame routine; it just wasn’t new for the Grizzlies because 12 of the 15 players on the varsity this season are seniors. They’re experienced, and even though No. 1 Jesse Stahl — Mac’s only state qualifier the last two seasons — has graduated, the Grizzlies are deep.

“Every year I feel we have a chance to win it,” Gabrielsen said. “We have the pieces of the puzzle. It’s just about putting them together.”

Senior Nathan Johnson, who last year was 12-2 as the No. 2 singles player for the Grizzlies, returns and steps in as the new No. 1. During his match Friday, there was a bit of new confidence with his game. Last season, he was knocked out in the opening match of the Pacific Conference district tournament, but he rebounded and scrapped his way through the consolation bracket to win the back side.

“That was extremely nice to see him bounce back,” Gabrielsen said.

This year, Johnson, senior Adam Kiff and senior Will Worth are the team captains. It’s a well-deserved honor, Gabrielsen said. The three have been varsity players since they were freshmen and are the last remnants of Mac’s last district championship season.

Gabrielsen said with the senior heavy team, the goals his players have made have changed. He meets with each player individually to discuss their goals before the season, and many came in saying this was their last chance to do something. He saw a lot of the desire and work in the offseason. The Grizzlies played in 10 Junior Team Tennis matches over the summer, and more players were in the weight room during the offseason or trying to hit when the weather was nice.

Gabrielsen said he especially sees more focus from Worth and his doubles partner Kiff, who lost in the district quarterfinals, one match from state. The pair had played well all season, and the loss has only helped them so far this spring.

“That match is probably good for this year,” Gabrielsen said. “It gives them incentive. Gives them a goal for this year.”

Another thing that has helped this spring is the weather, Gabrielsen said. It might be like Groundhog’s Day, but every spring the specter of rain clouds always looms and the fewer rainy days the better for preparation.

“Every day is better and better,” Gabrielsen said, looking toward the blue sky Friday. “It’s a broken record probably, but it’s huge when we’re trying to get ready for the season.”

Gabrielsen the team has been outside seven of the possible 11 practices days through last Friday.

While the team is mostly seniors, Gabrielsen there are a few younger guys that will get a chance to play. He said Isaac Balwit, a freshman, took lessons during the offseason at Linfield and should contribute.

Also helping is a new assistant coach. Bryce Borland, a Linfield College graduate, joins the staff as a volunteer assistant, and Gabrielsen said having the extra pair of eyes has helped.

“It’s been a big help,” Gabrielsen said. “Bryce helped out with the Junior Team Tennis stuff over the summer. Extremely helpful.”

The Grizzlies were scheduled to get under way at 4 p.m. Monday at home vs. Dallas High School. The Grizzlies then jump into Pacific Conference play at 4 p.m. today at home vs. rival Newberg at 4 p.m.

Continuing the busy first week, the Grizzlies are scheduled to play at 4 p.m. Thursday at Forest Grove.

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