The Bainbridge Spartans boys tennis team is state-bound in the spring. Since the Spartans are the lone 3A school in the Olympic League, they are not allowed to qualify through the league or 2A district championships.
Instead, the Spartans can only send one singles player and one doubles team to compete in the 3A districts. Brogan Rice finished seventh, making him the top alternate for state.
“I had the expectation of going to state,” Rice said. “Even though we moved all the way to the loser’s bracket, the district tournament went well. It worked out better even though all the odds were stacked against us.”
Rice was in a play-in game before qualifying for districts.
Rice and Aidan McLennan went to state last year as a doubles team. However, the lineup switched last minute this year when Mary McCombs became the Spartans boys coach.
“It was tough because the kids didn’t know there was a new coach,” McCombs said. “They were emailing the old coach and school hadn’t even started yet so the kids weren’t prepared, which made it extra hard.”
So, Rice began to focus on being the top singles player while McLennan needed a new partner. McCombs and McLennan teamed up to find Ari Mielbrecht-Hansen.
“I asked the kids, ‘Who’s Ari? What’s he like?’” McCombs said. “Everyone said he was awesome, and he needs to be here. He wrote me and said, ‘Sorry. I have been out of town, and I totally understand if you don’t want me to play this year.’”
McCombs placed him on the roster because he was a senior with untapped potential. Despite being only his second season playing tennis, Mielbrecht-Hansen has a background in gymnastics that helps him make plays nobody else can on the court.
“Aidan and I were standing on the upper courts and talking about who should we put him with, and at the same moment Ari was at the net, and he slammed a ball down,” McCombs said. “I asked Aidan about Ari, and his eyes lit up.”
The doubles team clicked well, finishing fifth at districts to qualify for state.
“Districts went just as well as it could have gone,” McLennan said. “We played the number one seed in the first round and barely lost. I know we can beat them the next time we play them, and after that we won the next four matches. I had so much fun doing it.”
McLennan and Mielbrecht-Hansen complement each other’s style of play.
“Ari flies through the air and is not afraid to be at the net and slam balls down,” McCombs said. “Aidan has one of the best serves I have seen in my life. To have one with a really good serve, and the other really good at the net is golden.”
A big part of Rice’s and McLennan’s and Mielbrecht-Hansen’s success came from McCombs.
Mielbrecht-Hansen said, “Last year I remember the coach would just tell us to play and be more consistent but this year this was more structure.”
McLennan added, “Mary taught us a lot about the mental side, which is the most neglectful side of tennis.”