Encore: Kent tennis team will return to nationals

The Weakend Warriors are just as strong as ever on the tennis court.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, August 19, 2008 1:30pm
  • Sports

The Weakend Warriors are just as strong as ever on the tennis court.

The adult tennis team with the tongue-in-cheek nickname that plays out of Kent’s Boeing Employee Tennis Club, has qualified for the United States Tennis Association National Championships for the second straight year. They did it by virtue of three straight victories in the recent sectional competition in Portland.

“We’re still scratching our heads. We have no idea how we pulled that one out,” team captain Dan Benoit said with a laugh. “We were a little short-handed, managing vacations and sore knees. We managed to cobble together enough of a lineup to get it done.”

The Warriors got it done with a 3-2 victory against the Bremerton Tennis Athletic Club in the title match for their category on Aug. 10. And it came down to the last singles contest with Paul Raftis, whose family name is synonymous with tennis in Kent and specifically at Kent-Meridian High School.

Raftis, who now owns and operates Paolo’s Italian restaurant on Kent’s East Hill, came from behind for a 0-6, 7-5, 13-11 super-tiebreaker victory to provide the third and deciding point.

“We were trading (the lead) back and forth, and he had a couple match points,” Raftis said. “He was up 9-8, and I made a good passing shot, but he got to it and got it back. But it was out by about an inch. I kind of held my breath.

Given new life at 9-all, Raftis eventually pulled it out.

“He was on Cloud 9,” Benoit said.

The Warriors, who took second place at the 2.5 (bottom-rung) level in last year’s nationals, have moved up a notch to 3.0 this year. (The USTA level numbers are based on ability; the highest is 7.0 for elite and world-level players.)

Next stop will be Tucson, Ariz., for the nationals, set for Oct. 3-6.

“We’re definitely better than last year,” Benoit said. “And the competition is definitely better.”

The Warriors opened play on Aug. 8 with a 5-0 victory against Cascade Athletic Club. But it was much closer than that — three of the five matches went to the third-set super-tiebreaker (first to 10 points and ahead by two).

A 4-1 victory against the Tri-City Court Club the following day gave the Warriors first place in their three-team flight and a spot against Bremerton for the right to go to nationals.

The Kent crew won two of the three doubles matches: Benoit and Mike McClean in the No. 1 spot, then Dave Herron and Darren Griffin at No. 3. Bremerton got No. 2 doubles and No. 1 singles. That brought it down to Raftis in No. 2 singles for the trip to Tucson.

“It’s pretty amazing that we’re making it to Arizona,” said Raftis, who wasn’t part of last year’s team because players with high school experience — even if it was several years ago — aren’t allowed to compete at the 2.5 level. “We were missing three key players for our final match, but people got it together. We were like little boys after the match, really excited and shaking our heads that we were actually going.”

The Warriors used a total of 10 player between their three matches, with vacations, a family reunion and injuries all factoring into the rotating lineup.

The end result was the same as in 2007, however: a trip to nationals.

“Last year, we didn’t know what we were getting into at all,” Benoit said. “We had so much fun last year, so we did it again. There are a lot more teams at this (3.0) level. There were 22 local teams we had to get through before we got to sectionals.

“We’re having fun, and we’re getting better,” Benoit added.

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