YAKIMA - Wa-Hi's boys tennis team finished second at the Coke Classic at Kissel Park here Saturday.
The Blue Devils' Drew Swenson defeated three foes en route to a first-place finish at No. 3 singles, while the No. 2 doubles team of Doug Rowley and Zack Anderson also finished first.
"This is Walla Walla's first taste of the Coke Classic because in years past, we've played the regular-season ending Yakima Invite," Wa-Hi coach Ted Cummings said. "Both tournaments have the same eight-team format, but the Coke really jump starts the season with three matches for each participant in one day prior to the start of the dual-match season.
"There was obvious improvement as the day went on, and players tried to figure out successful tactics," he said. "With three players or teams playing for flighted championships, the Blue Devils were in the hunt for the team title up until the final two matches were completed."
Swenson downed Hanford's Cam Sullivan 6-1, 6-1, then West Valley's Brian Ridd 6-0, 6-2, and Gonzaga Prep's Dan Shepard 6-0, 6-2.
Rowley and Anderson staged a second-round comeback, trailing by a set and down 3-5 before asserting themselves to win the next two sets 7-5, 7-6 to down Gonzaga Prep's Griffin Burns and Peter Mills. The final match was nearly as close as the Wa-Hi team adopted the Blue Devils' attacking style of doubles play for a 6-2 in the third set to win the title, Cummings said.
Team captain Blake Rowley won two of three matches and "looked strong in the toughest flight (No. 1 singles) and placed fourth, while Josh Kuznetsov (at No. 2) also won two of three matches and placed third in a talented field," Cummings said. "Anyone of our top three boys (Blake Rowley, Kuznetsov and Swenson) could certainly play No. 1 singles and experience success in our league this season, and we anticipate another great year from this team after finishing with a 10-2 loss record in 2011."
Cummings, in his 25th season with Wa-Hi, said last year's team may have been the strongest in the past 15 years, after the Blue Devils went undefeated and won the Big Nine title in 1996.
Wa-Hi lost all-league first-teamer Cameron Davis among five players graduating from last year's team.
Returning are team co-captains Blake Rowley and James Tupper-Bridges, along with seniors Parker Postlewait, Swenson and John Meliah.
Juniors include Anderson, J.D. Dawes and Tucker Gossett, with sophomores Conner Christensen, Kuznetsov and Doug Rowley.
Cummings said his three singles players make each other better.
"All three are pretty evenly matched and have taken turns these first three weeks knocking each other around," he said. "That's a coach's dream to have his top players challenged each and every day in practice.
Swenson has perhaps the strongest serve I've had on the team in the past four or five years, but he needs to hit it in 60-70 percent of the time to be effective," he said.
"Blake has perhaps the best shot to make it out of districts and on the regionals this season, but don't count Josh out as well.
"Our doubles teams of Meliah-Dawes at No. 1, Anderson-Rowley at No. 2 and Tucker-Christensen at No. 3 will have their hands full as only John Meliah has varsity competition experience," Cummings said. "I really like Zack Anderson's work ethic and incredible improvement from junior varsity play last year. He's at a whole different level in '12 and seems pretty focused on improvement.
"Lane Dawes is a pure athlete having played numerous sports in the past (baseball, football, basketball and tennis) and could be a real force once his consistency kicks in."
Wa-Hi's first home match is at 3 p.m. Friday when Southridge comes to town. The Blue Devil girls play at the Walla Walla Country Club, while the boys play at Wa-Hi.
No. 1 - Blake Rowley, Wa-Hi, lost to Alex Hattamer, Gon. Prep, 6-2, 6-3; def. Felipe Monter, Ike, 6-0, 6-2; def. Josh Waterhouse, East, 6-3, 6-4; placed fourth. No. 2 - Josh Kuznetsov, Wa-Hi, def. Josh Latimer, West Valley, 6-0, 6-1; lost to Kevin Sands, Hanford, 6-4, 6-0, def. Colton Erho, East, 6-0, 6-2; placed third. No. 3 Drew Swenson, Wa-Hi, def. Cam Sullivan, Hanford, 6-1, 6-1; def Brian Ridd, West Valley, 6-0, 6-2; def. Dan Shepard, Gon. Prep, 6-0, 6-2; first place.
No. 1 - Lane Dawes-John Meliah, Wa-Hi, lost to Andres Barragan-Kyle Miller, Davis, 6-4, 6-4; bye; def. Carter Verbrugge-Jacob Villasenor, West Valley, 6-1, 6-2; fourth place. No. 2 - Doug Rowley-Zack Anderson, Wa-Hi, bye; def. Griffin Burns-Peter Mills, Gon. Prep, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6); def. Paul Hannan-Mukthi Kukkandapu, Hanford, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2; first place. No. 3 - Drew Bateman-Connor Christensen, Wa-Hi, bye; def. Hunter Long-Joe Sheih, Davis, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 (8), lost to Paul Flerchenger-Clay Leland, Gon. Prep, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3; second place.
Hanford 53, Wa-Hi 48, Gonzaga Prep 44, Davis 40, Eastmont 36, West Valley 33, Eisenhower 14.