Editor’s note: This is the ninth of an 11-part series profiling various spring high school sports in Cache Valley and recognizing the seniors from those teams.
The margin separating the best high school boys tennis teams in Cache Valley was razor thin a year ago.
Case in point: Logan, Green Canyon and Ridgeline were only separated by five points at the 2019 Region 12 Championships. The Grizzlies (61 points) held off the defending champion Wolves (57) and Riverhawks (56) en route to capturing their first region crown since 2012.
All three teams welcomed back returning state qualifiers this spring, with Logan and Ridgeline leading the way with three apiece. Additionally, Sky View and Mountain Crest had big senior classes and were in good shape to be much improved in 2020, after making significant strides the year before.
Indeed, the ’20 tennis season was shaping up to be an intriguing one for every one of the programs from Cache Valley. Unfortunately for these local athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the season barely after it started.
Here is a breakdown of each Cache County boys program:
Unlike the other local teams, the Bobcats didn’t get to compete in a single match this spring. This was likely Sky View’s best squad since the split with Green Canyon.
“We had just got the snow cleared off the courts, completed tryouts, set the pre-season roster and were headed to our first meet when the season was canceled,” SV head coach John Engler said. “We have seven seniors and no juniors on the team, so this was going to be a season of send-offs for the seniors and a season of building for the rest of the team. On both counts, the loss of the season really hurts.”
The Bobcats were at practice when Engler received a phone call from athletic director Ryan Grunig to deliver the bad news.
“I didn’t want to tell the guys right away — after a long winter, we had only been back on the courts for a week — but within a few minutes some of them started getting texts about what was happening, so I called them over to break the news,” Engler said. “They were really crushed.”
Sky View has seven seniors in Boston Hellstern, Tyler Hoggan, Ethan Coombs, Dylan Smith, Carter Thurston, Alex Hoggan and standout golfer Hayden Kleven. Hellstern, Coombs and Smith were all returning varsity players from last season, and Engler was also expecting big things from Hoggan.
Coombs and Hellstern punched their ticket to the ’19 4A State Championships at first doubles.
“These seniors — some of them have had three different head coaches — so it was going to be really great for us all to have a second season in a row together,” Engler said. “This year was our chance to really refine their game and go out on a high note. ... I really feel for the guys losing out on what would have been a really memorable and fun season.”
Heading to their season opener, the Bobcats’ varsity roster was comprised of singles players Hellstern (No. 1), Jaden Merrill (No. 2) and Ben Spackman (No. 3), and the doubles tandems of Coombs/Hoggan (No. 1) and Smith/Tyler Funk (No. 2).
Sky View added nine few freshmen and sophomores to its program this year as the Bobcats continue to build their depth.
Calvin Felt was Green Canyon’s only returning state qualifier, but head coach Christian Davenport was confident his team had the talent to claim its second region title in a three-year span. The Wolves always have a lot of depth and a strong JV squad — the best collection of JV players in the region the previous two seasons.
“A goal that we had for our team was to take region,” said Davenport, who was in his first season at the Green Canyon helm. “We had a lot of good players and we had played really well against Bountiful and Fremont. This team was extremely supportive of each other, which often made a huge difference.”
Felt was a two-time state qualifier at third singles and was making the move to the top singles spot this spring. Fellow underclassmen Carter Thorpe and Andrew Westwood were competing at the No. 2 and No. 3 positions for the Wolves.
“Calvin and Carter have put in a lot of work to get where they are now and we’re excited to see where they’ll be at next season,” Davenport said.
JC Fonnesbeck and Ben Nielsen had seemingly locked down the No. 1 doubles position for the Wolves. Green Canyon’s permanent second doubles duo was still undecided, with Camden Hooley, Luke Olsen and Jeff Huband vying for those two spots.
Nielsen and Hooley are Green Canyon’s lone seniors, and Davenport praised both athletes for their leadership.
“Our seniors and captains, Ben and Camden, were the heart of this team,” Davenport said. “They were there for everyone on the team and they brought positivity and a winning attitude to the team. Tennis is a largely a mind game. Ben and Camden understood this and they worked hard to stay confident in themselves. They brought this confidence to the whole team. They mean a great deal to me and it was extremely hard to hear about the UHSAA’s decision to end the season.”
Davenport added “we have plans to celebrate (Hooley and Nielsen) with an end-of-season get together when we are able.”
The Grizzlies were the most balanced squad in the region a year ago as they competed in the championship match at every position. Logan was counting on that balance to carve out a similar level of success in ’20.
“Being the region champions last year, we felt like we had a real shot at taking the title again,” LHS head coach Kallie Rice said. “We had a lot of returning players that worked hard during the off-season and a couple new players that were going to give us a successful season. Our goal this year was to climb the ranks at the state tournament after having a good showing last year.”
All three of Logan’s returning state qualifiers were region runner-ups last spring in Paul Miller (No. 3 singles), Michael Summers (No. 1 doubles) and Kimbal Ricks (No. 2 doubles). Ricks “worked extremely hard during the offseason and earned the varsity first singles position,” Rice asserted.
Ashton Xu was competing at No. 2 singles when the season was halted, and Miller was back at the No. 3 spot. The junior went undefeated in the St. George Tournament, which was contested in mid-March.
Logan’s doubles tandems were manned by Summers and Jackson Jenkins (No. 1), and Jungsung Lee and Gabe Gilbert (No. 2). Lee is a freshman. Rice was confident Summers’ “leadership and focus would have given him another successful season in our top doubles position.”
Summers was Logan’s lone senior on the varsity squad, although he was joined by JV competitors Jason Duersch and athletic basketball player Hayden Woolley.
“Our three seniors really meant a lot to me this year,” Rice said. “Last year was my first year coaching for Logan, so I really got to know Michael Summers, Hayden Woolley, and Jason Duersch. It was really tough to let them know that our season got cut almost entirely. They are great boys and I know that all three of them will be successful in whatever they choose to do. ... I’m currently working on something for our three seniors that I hope will make them feel like they were highly appreciated and will be sorely missed next year.”
The addition of Jonathan Christiansen, a foreign exchange student from Denmark, made an already talented Ridgeline squad even more dangerous. This was potentially the Riverhawks’ best team in their four-year history.
“We were obviously hoping to have enough power to take region and then be a contender at state,” said RHS head coach Clair Anderson, who was in his first season at the helm. “We had some significant talent coming back, plus we had a surprise foreign exchange student show up on Day 1 that nobody even knew and he is incredibly good, so our top core group of kids were incredibly talented and on any given day could beat each other. And so we really thought we had a chance to go pretty deep.”
Christiansen, who grew up playing on the clay, emerged as Ridgeline’s top singles player after a spirited but friendly battle with Eric Ellis and Grayson Anderson — two of the team’s returning state qualifiers. Coach Anderson raved about the junior’s forehand.
Ellis competed at the top position a year ago and nearly beat the Region 9 champion from Dixie — an eventual semifinalist — in the first round of the 4A state tournament. Ellis is a four-year varsity performer and was manning the No. 2 spot as a senior.
Anderson, who teamed up with fellow senior Collin Simon at first doubles last spring, was playing third singles.
Ridgeline’s doubles teams consisted of Harrison Low and Thatcher Ellis (No. 1), and Simon and Christian Payne (No. 2). Of those four athletes, Ellis — “that kid’s tennis IQ was second to none on our team,” coach Anderson declared — was the lone underclassman.
The Riverhawks got off to an outstanding start before the season came to a swift end. Ridgeline beat Fremont and Richfield, and then prevailed against Dixie and Pine View in between rain delays at the St. George Tournament. The Riverhawks were on their way to Richfield when they received the bad news.
“When we got to Richfield, we were like, ‘All right, this is it for us. We’ve got two days left,’ so it wasn’t just like an abrupt end,” said coach Anderson, who gushed about how well his team bonded. “When we got done playing Richfield, we knew we had a couple of days left (in St. George) and that we’d make the most of it, and it was awesome. I had 18 kids down there with us and we rented two houses, and we knew it was our last hurrah, and we just enjoyed each others’ company. ... It’s a pretty special group of kids.”
Ridgeline has a huge senior class of 15 in Jackson Ahlmer, Anderson, Noah Cartwright, Colby Christensen, Gavin Cole, Matthew Diamond, Ellis, Porter Frazier, Alex Hill, Carter Jackson, Will Larson, Low, Payne, Simon and Ben Woodland.
Simply put, the Mustangs were primed for their best season since the split with Ridgeline. Mountain Crest’s entire varsity lineup consisted of seniors and juniors, with the exception of one freshman.
Mountain Crest challenged Sky View for fourth place in the region standings a year ago and finished well ahead of Bear River in the league race.
“We were off to a good start this year, defeating 5A Clearfield and 6A Fremont in the preseason,” said MC head coach Jackie Oswald, who was in her first season in charge of the program. “The varsity lineup was stacked with seniors. We were competitive in every position.”
Upperclassmen James Naser (No. 1), Camden Oswald (No. 2) and Ethan Olsen (No. 3) had shored up the three varsity singles positions, with senior Alex Burns and freshman Bryton Musselman manning the top doubles spot. Olsen competed at the 4A state tournament at second doubles a year ago.
Unlike the rest of the lineup, the second doubles spot was still up for grabs. Senior Jake Randall teamed up with junior Braxton Stoker in Mountain Crest’s first match of the season, and competed with junior Isaac Parker in the second match. Senior Lance Fristrup, an all-region golfer, and a few more juniors were also in the mix to partner up with Randall.
“We were still having challenge matches (when the season was canceled),” Oswald said.
The Mustangs have five seniors in Naser, Olsen, Burns, Randall and Fristrup.
“The group of boys that are seniors came to us as freshman the first year after the school split,” Oswald said. “We lost a lot of tennis talent to Ridgeline. We barely had enough boys to fill the team the first year, with only 13 trying out. That group of boys has gone above and beyond, and have exceeded my expectations. The boys came to us with little to no tennis experience. They have been such a fun, hard-working group that has done everything that has been asked of them, usually with a smile. Their hard work paid off. This group of seniors were able to move up the ladder young and succeed early.”