Three years ago, freshman Akash Prasad approached Camas High School (CHS) boys tennis coach Jonathan Burton before the Papermakers’ first match of the season.
“He said, ‘Can I play No. 1 today?’ and I said, ‘Well, there are other kids ahead of you on the ladder. We can’t put you up there,'” Burton said. “He told me, ‘Coach, I just want to play the best.'”
It took Prasad only one season to become the Papermakers’ top player, and he enters his junior season with a goal of finishing as one of the top three 4A singles players in the state.
Last season Prasad finished fourth at the state tournament in doubles play after helping CHS share a 4A Greater St. Helens League title with Union.
“He’s more focused on singles this year, so I’m really excited to see what Akash will do in the league,” Burton said. “He knows the tendencies of so many other players in the league.”
Prasad knows those players well because he’s played with them on club teams for many years.
“I started playing tennis in first grade, but didn’t really get serious about the sport until seventh grade,” Prasad said.
CHS will open its 2019 season against Mountain View on Tuesday, Sept. 10. Its first home match will be held Monday, Sept. 16 against Mark Morris.
Team has large turnout
While players like Prasad train for tennis year-round, most of his teammates don’t. About 70 players turned out for the Papermakers’ first practice of the season last month, and Burton couldn’t be more excited about the big turnout.
“It’s a no-cut sport, and we have an extremely wide range of players in their ability levels,” Burton said.
While tennis clubs provide top players with professional technique instruction, high school tennis teams have a completely different vibe, according to coaches and players.
“The thing I can offer them more than just technique instruction is the ability to compete,” Burton said. (I can coach) them through trials and tribulations that they experience out there on the court.”
Sonny Wang had an impressive freshman season in 2018, and Burton expects the sophomore to break out this year.
“He’s very humble about his abilities, and I’m trying to encourage him to do more to increase his confidence,” Burton said.
Leading the team as a captain is Jessie Kim, who’s known as a quiet leader with an understanding of the inner workings of the CHS tennis program.
Kim gained much of that knowledge as the manager for the Papermakers’ girls tennis team and now uses his managerial skills to help his own squad.
“I get to the court and he gives me a report that we’re out of tennis balls or the net on court No. 4 is too high,” Burton said. “He knows what’s going on and is a tremendous help.”
With so many players turning out this year, Burton and junior varsity coach Doug Brumfield have also tapped top players like Prasad to help motivate and teach important skills to other less experienced players during daily practice sessions.
“It really develops a team mentality, and the young guys can look up to those kids,” Burton said.
One of the Papermakers’ themes for this season is to encourage players to have respect for themselves, their teammates and opponents.
“Tennis is a sport that can attract some passionate people, which is a polite way of saying rude,” Burton said. “I do find that it is a problem present in high school tennis, and I try to have kids exercise humility and be gracious to their opponents.”