The Juneau-Douglas High School tennis team will be led by familiar faces this season. The squad, which includes a handful of Thunder Mountain students as well, is shaping into form as it begins its fourth week of practice.
Head coach Kurt Dzinich named three seniors as captains: Erica Hurtte, River Reyes-Boyer and Sahil Bathija. All three go to JDHS and are in their fourth year on the team, which will play in the Anchorage Invitational on Sept. 7-8 in addition to the state tournament on Oct. 5-6.
Hurtte arrived on the team with some tennis experience, which she put to good use right away, teaming up with then-junior Sami Good to win the girls doubles state championship her freshmen year. She dueled with South Anchorage’s Christine Hemry for the girls singles state title the next two years, coming up short both times.
“She is an excellent player and she had such success from the first moment she was on the team,” Dzinich said Friday at practice. “That’s carried through for her entire high school career that I think that has been a nice example to the other players on the team.”
Hurtte said this will probably be her final year of competitive tennis. She hopes to improve on some of the smaller aspects of the game now that she has more or less mastered the fundamentals.
“I feel like I have the basic serve and groundstroke and volley and everything down,” Hurtte said. “So now it’s just about being able to strategize and when you’re in a match, being able to mentally prepare yourself.”
Unlike Hurtte, Reyes-Boyer and Bathija had no previous playing experience when they joined the team.
Reyes-Boyer hasn’t made the cut for state yet but hopes this will be the year he can break through. The team can only take its top four boys and girls to the competition.
“When I started out, I was very bad at tennis, I’d never held a racquet before,” Reyes-Boyer said. “Now I’m a decent player, recreationally, anyway. I chose to do tennis over wrestling because (with) wrestling there’s the chance of concussions and head trauma.”
Bathija has similar aspirations of making it on the state roster.
“I think I can definitely put more effort into this year and more commitment and focus,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten a lot better since (last season).”
Bathija also runs on the JDHS cross country team.
“It’s a lot easier in summer,” Bathija said of juggling two sports. “But when school starts, it’s like school, then cross country, and then homework and then tennis at night.”
Dzinich said the team welcomed a host newcomers this year. Some of the new faces are upperclassmen, like JDHS senior Jake Marnon, while others are underclassmen, like TMHS freshman Jaymie Collman.
“I just wanted to try something new,” Marnon said. “I knew a few players and it seemed like a lot of fun. I’d played it as a kid and it was always a fun sport to do.”
Collman said she’s been taking tennis lessons since she was in second grade. Collman is one of roughly six Thunder Mountain players on the team.
“It’s a lot harder and it’s a lot more professional than what I’m used to but it’s pretty fun,” Collman said.
This is the third season Falcons have been allowed to join the team under the Alaska School Activities Association’s cooperative schools program. The team has benefitted from the addition of TMHS students. The all-Falcons mixed doubles duo of Sammy McKnight and Adelie McMillan were state runners-up last season.
McKnight graduated in the spring, but McMillan will be back for her sophomore season.
The roster includes three others — Hurtte (singles), Wolf Dostal (singles), Oliva Moore (doubles) — who represented the Crimson Bears at last year’s state tournament.