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Eye of the Tornado

North Medford belies its youth by placing eight in the semifinals at district

Several are too young to drive. Most are too young to vote.

But don't be fooled by the braces and the baby faces: The North Medford High boys tennis team wields some wicked racquets.

As expected, the youthful Black Tornado took command of the Southern Oregon Conference district tennis tournament Thursday at sun-baked Varsity Courts.

The Tornado advanced two singles players and three doubles teams into Saturday's semifinal round. In the process, those eight players earned berths to the Class 4A state tournament May 18-19-20 at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Beaverton.

Most of these kids have played a lot of tennis (at the club level) and so it's not a big deal that they're freshmen and sophomores, said North Medford coach Larry Fields, whose team built a five-point lead over Ashland in the team standings after Day — of the district tournament. They're aggressive and confident players.

— Freshman Colt Hoeptner, North Medford's top-seeded singles player, rolled to a 6-1, 6-0 win over Grants Pass' Juren Nelson and later romped over Roseburg's Logan Wetherell 6-0, 6-2 to reach the semifinal round.

Sophomore Michael Tribble, seeded third, also registered two straight-set victories, as did the Black Tornado's top-seeded doubles team of freshman Tanner Borg and sophomore David Longmire and its third-seeded doubles tandem of freshman Austin Schoenlein and senior Steve Folsom.

Fields was confident those six standouts would punch their tickets to the state tournament. Less certain was the fate of seniors Brandon Como and Arthur Huynh, but the unseeded doubles duo came through with a straight-set win over Roseburg's Wetherell and Kurt Lamberton and then outfought Grants Pass' Marty Christensen and Forest Carpenter in the winner-to-state quarterfinals tussle 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3.

That's a nice bonus, Fields said of pulling two extra players to state. I thought they (Como and Huynh) had a pretty good draw, but they still had to go out there and win.

It's probably too much to expect North Medford to win its first state title since 1964, but the Tornado is battle-tested. It squared off against most of the state's top squads at a tournament at Jesuit High in Beaverton on April 22 and at another tournament in Medford on April 29.

North Medford took its lumps at the Jesuit tourney but finished runner-up to South Eugene at the 10-team Ashland/North Medford Invitational.

Jesuit was a wake-up call for these kids, Fields said. Against the good teams, they found out they have to serve better, volley better and attack the net more aggressively if they're going to win.

We played a lot better against some of those same teams at the big tournament down here. I don't think any of our kids will be intimidated at state. They got a taste of what it's all about.

Hoeptner might be North Medford's most experienced player. He was on the courts at — years old and has played competitively since he was 8. His grandmother, Annette Hoeptner, escorts him to tournaments all over the country during the summer months.

He was ranked among the top five for players 14-and-under in the Pacific Northwest last year.

Hoeptner lost only three games during his two matches Thursday. He'll meet Ashland's Nick Spurlock, the No. 4 seed, in Saturday's semifinal round.

I'm looking to finish the district tournament strong and then just do my best at state, said Hoeptner, whose only losses this spring have come against South Eugene's Walt James and West Linn's Austin Rifken. One good thing about our team is that we're all good friends. I think that takes the pressure off.

Longmire and Borg have been pals since their days at Grace Christian when they were middle school football quarterbacks. They were thoroughly dominant Thursday, losing just one game in their two matches.

Longmire and Borg went unbeaten in SOC play and raised eyebrows across the state when they won the doubles title at the Ashland/North Medford Invitational. They're likely to earn a high seed at the state tournament providing they take care of business Saturday and win the SOC title.

I have a good forehand and Tanner has a great backhand, so we complement each other well, Longmire said. Tanner is the trick-shot artist. He can drop shots over the net and into the corners. My strength is the power game.

If we stay focused I think we can go a long ways at state.

Longmire and Tribble are the only North Medford players with state-tournament experience. They advanced to the consolation finals in doubles last year.

Second-seeded Kyle Lachman joined Spurlock in the semifinal round for Ashland.

The Roseburg doubles tandem of Andrew Besson and Josh Borrelli also punched their tickets to state by advancing to the semis.

TEAM SCORES ' North Medford 36, Ashland 31, Roseburg 22, Grants Pass 21, South Medford 16.

SINGLES

First Round

Colt Hoeptner (1), NM, d. Juren Nelson, GP, 6-1, 6-0; Logen Wetherell, Ros, d. Ari Silberstain, Ash, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1; Mickey Allapuch, GP, d. Eric Loeffler, GP, 6-0, 6-0; Nick Spurlock (4), Ash, d. Jordan Santos, Ros, 6-2, 6-2; Michael Tribble, North Medford (3), d. Charles Davis, Ros, 6-1, 6-0; Jack Turner, Ash, d. Xavier Brasseur, SM, 6-4, 6-0; Antoine Guy, SM, d. Nathan Dines, NM, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4; Kyle Lachman (2), Ash, d. Derrick Foley, Ros, 6-2, 6-2.

Quarterfinals

Hoeptner (1), NM, d. Wetherell, Ros, 6-0, 6-2; Spurlock, (4) Ash, d. Allapuch, GP, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4; Tribble (3), NM, d. Turner, Ash, 6-2, 6-3; Lachman (2), Ash, d. Guy, SM, 6-3, 6-1.

DOUBLES

First Round

David Longmire-Tanner Borg, (1) NM, d. Jamey Keefe-David Wheatcraft, GP, 6-0, 6-0; Sean Cleveland-Stephan Becker, Ash, d. John Frank-Brian O'Neal, Ros, 6-0, 6-1; Brandon Como-Arthur Huynh, NM, d. Kurt Lamberton-Shea Wetherell, Ros, 6-0, 6-2; Marty Christensen-Forest Carpenter, GP, d. Kent Eastman-Alex Pfenning, SM (4), 6-4, 6-3; Austin Schoenlein-Steve Folsom, (3) NM, d. Andrew Cataldo-Kyle Curran, Ash, 6-0, 6-0; Jordan Van Delden-Robert Williams, GP, d. Gavin Bell-Grayson Davis, Ros, 6-2, 6-2; Caleb Morrison-John Weighter, Ash, d. Keith Townsend-Aaron Leiberman, GP, 6-4, 6-0; Andrew Besson-Josh Borrelli, (2) Ros, d. Sam Barr-Matt Gardner, SM, 6-0, 6-0.

Quarterfinals

Longmire-Borg, NM (1), d. Cleveland-Becker, Ash, 6-1, 6-0; Como-Huynh, NM, d. Christensen-Carpenter, GP, 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3; Schoenlein-Folsom (3), NM, d. Van Delden-Williams, GP, 6-0, 6-1; Besson-Borrelli, Ros (2), d. Morrison-Weighter, Ash, 6-3, 7-5.

Eye of the Tornado"dhunt@mailtribune.com.

North's Colt Hoeptner steadies for a return during district tennis action Thursday at North Medford High. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven