Walk into Sandpoint Middle School’s gym and there’s a tennis dynasty to be found.
Well, at least until the snow melts.
For now, tennis balls bounce errantly on the worn hardwood. Freshmen casually volley over a single strip of caution tape tied between two volleyball poles. Others hit forehands into some of the gym’s brick walls as track and softball athletes cautiously shuffle towards the exits.
Yet in spite of the rather interesting practice configuration, Sandpoint tennis head coach Kent Anderson remains confident that once his teams get out of the gym and onto the outside courts, they’ll resume their stranglehold on the 4A Inland Empire League.
“We’re pretty solid. It doesn’t look like it now,” Anderson said, gesturing to the dozen or so tennis players hitting tennis balls in the gym. “It looks like a zoo out there.”
The “zoo” in question is a balanced mix of experienced seniors, promising freshmen and underclassmen with district tournament experience that comprise Sandpoint’s boys and girls’ tennis teams. While both teams have been successful under Anderson’s tenure, the girls have always been the marquee team. Despite losing sisters April and Amy Clark, who made state for doubles, the girls’ team has a logjam of talented players, ranging from two-time 4A IEL Player of the Year Allura Livingston to promising freshman Quincy Evans, who Anderson calls “a future superstar.” As always, the challenge will be determining not only who makes the final, nine-woman roster, but also who will play doubles.
“Everyone has trained doubles on the girls team,” Anderson said. “On the girls team, I can put anyone anywhere I want. I have four girls that can play number one. I have 12 girls vying for the top nine spots, so I’m going to have a war between five girls for the last two spots.”
The girls’ lineup is led by Livingston, who has gone undefeated in league singles play for and won 4A IEL Player of the Year over the past two seasons. Even though being undefeated is a burden of its own, the senior doesn’t dwell on it and instead focuses on enjoying the sport.
“I play tennis because I enjoy it,” Livingston said. “The competition is fun, but I try not to stress myself out with trying to win all the time. It can be stressful playing the best of [other team’s] players, but in the end having fun is all that matters.”
This isn’t to say Livingston hasn’t enjoyed competing and the success that it has brought. If anything, the success has given her affirmation for the work she puts into the sport.
“Something that’s still important to me is winning singles in districts my sophomore year and getting player of the year, then doing the same thing last year,” Livingston said. “That made me feel like, ‘Wow what I’m doing is actually being recognized by other people.’”
This season, however, Livingston will likely take her love for the sport and winning experience over to doubles. Anderson isn’t quite sure how either teams’ doubles squads will shake up, but the team’s talent and performances have given him plenty of options to choose from.
“They’re all incredible players,” Livingston said of her potential doubles partners. “Jenny [Slaveck] is number two on the team and I’ve played her so many times that I know what she’s good at. She’s got a crazy serve, and I want to play with her so badly. But Tessa [Beeman] and Hadley [Goodvin] are so consistent with the ball. It’s just ground strokes all day with them, so you can always count on them making a smart move.”
But the real wild card of the bunch could be freshman Quincy Evans. She as been training with Anderson throughout middle school; her progress over the past few years has convinced Anderson she’s a “future star” due to her athleticism.
“She just qualified for nationals in skiing for the downhill, and everything else she does is at a pretty high level,” Anderson said. “She’s got a ways to go as a high school tennis player — there’s a lot to learn for her to be a consistent player — but she’s a phenom athlete.”
Speaking of phenom athletes, the boys’ team has its fair share of quick, strong players that could make noise at state. The team starts with senior Declan Plummer, who Anderson said made the biggest strides over the offseason.
“Declan is always tough because he’s so athletic,” Anderson said. “But now his court game has evolved and his strokes are stronger and his serve has gotten better. He came to every winter practice. He wants to be a dominant player, which will be difficult because of Moscow’s player coming back.”
That Moscow player, David Wendt, won the 4A IEL singles title last season. Naturally, Plummer has his sights set on him this season.
“I really want to play him because I definitely think I have a chance to beat him this year,” Plummer said.
In order to do that, Plummer will have to rely on both his athleticism and his refined backhand and serve, both of which he has worked on over the offseason.
“Right now I’ve worked on my consistency and my backhand, and my backhand has really come together,” Plummer said. “I’ve definitely made some big improvements, and it feels good knowing that my coach thinks so too.”
Like the girls, the boys team’s roster offers a variety of options for doubles. Sophomores Charlie Johnson and Christian Story are the clear choice given their doubles experience from last season, but Anderson will leave it up to them.
“They went against top state players and they were right there with them every single match,” Anderson said. “If I put those two together, they’d for sure be district champs. But it’s up to them if they want to play doubles.”
Regardless of how the lineup changes, the deepest high school tennis teams in northern Idaho could reside in Sandpoint once again.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be district champs for both guys and girls this year,” Anderson said. “I have no worries about versatility. They can all do it.”