By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers tennis dynasty is alive and well.
They will, however, have to wait a week longer than anticipated to compete in this year’s H-DNL championships, where they are expected to dominate once again.
The singles championships were scheduled to take place this weekend at Eureka High, but were postponed until next Friday because of the weather.
The doubles championships will also be held at Eureka next Saturday.
And the Tigers will be favorites to clinch a number of titles, including the No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, where the winners will advance to the North Coast Section tournaments.
They certainly have the depth to do so after rolling through the regular season with a 9-0 record against the rest of the H-DNL.
“It’s probably the first time I’ve ever had six players where tennis is their No. 1 sport,” head coach Sheldon Heath said. “They play all year round and they all push each other.”
Arcata’s No. 1 player and the frontrunner for the league title is junior Keona DeArmond, with teammates Kyra Alway and Aimee Reiner giving the team a potent trio as good as anyone else on the North Coast.
Two years ago, the last time the NCS playoffs were held, DeArmond teamed with Reiner to make H-DNL tennis history, when they placed second at the NCS Division-II doubles tournament and became the first-ever local players to win a section pennant in the sport.
“Keona and Aimee have really built the team program,” Heath said of the duo. “They have elevated tennis at Arcata High to a whole different level.”
DeArmond will go into next week’s No. 1 tournament as the favorite, with Alway also a strong frontrunner in the No. 2 singles bracket.
“She would probably beat eight of the nine other teams’ No. 1 player,” Heath said of Alway.
Focusing on doubles
Reiner, meanwhile, is focusing on doubles this season and the senior standout seems to be enjoying her tennis as much as ever.
“She just loves doubles,” the coach said of Reiner, who will team with Alway next weekend.
The Tigers depth doesn’t end with the three experienced leaders, and they will field three freshmen and a sophomore at Nos. 3-6 singles.
No. 3 is freshman Iris Besmer, who the coach said “is going to be a real solid player for us,” while fellow freshman Abigail Issa will represent the team at No. 4.
“She’s another real solid player,” Heath said of Issa. “I have a wealth of freshmen this year.”
A third freshman, Kloee Donnelly, will play for the Tigers at No. 5, while sophomore Jasmine McKnight will play at No. 6.
“She’s just an all-around athlete,” Heath said of McKnight, who also plays basketball. “It’s really a pleasure to have her on the team.”
The coach says the attitude of all of his players has been exceptional and they all show up at practice every day ready to have fun.
“They don’t even mind running laps,” the coach said with a chuckle. “If I tell them to run laps, they say ‘great, let’s do it.’ So it’s really been a treat coaching them.”
Despite his team’s dominance through the regular season, however, Heath expects a battle in most of the brackets, especially at No. 1 and especially from Northcoast Prep’s Emma Bazemore.
Bazemore has been battling a slight injury and Heath says he’s not sure whether she’ll compete in singles or doubles, but he is expecting a great match from her in either tournament if the Tigers face her along the way.
“We’ve had a really healthy rivalry (with Northcoast Prep) the last three or four years,” he said.
Heath puts his program’s incredible success down to the popularity of the sport and the team’s support system.
“The sport is really growing, not just locally but nationally, and especially with women,” he said. “And I also think a lot of parents in Arcata really support tennis.”
Next week’s tournaments both get under way at 10 a.m.