By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Enthusiasm is the fertilizer that sprouts tennis players at Keaau, where coach JoYi Rhyss is cultivating a batch of Big Island Interscholastic Federation title contenders.
“We’ve got a lot of returning boys, who have played for a couple of years,” she said. “They’re looking really strong. We have high hopes they can get into the round of 16 (at the BIIF tournament). The last time we sent someone to states was three or four years ago.”
Davin Alviento is the No. 1 singles player, and Lucas Santos, an exchange student from Brazil, is the No. 2. For doubles, Beejay Ines and Eric Longboy are No. 1 and Chaney Simeon-Paulino and Edgar Ventura are No. 2.
Alviento, Simeon-Paulino and Ventura were on the Keaau basketball team that made a drastic turnaround, going from 1-11 last year to 6-7 this past season. However, the last game was heart-breaking, a 43-42 setback to Waiakea in the first round of the Division I playoffs.
On a blissful, blue-sky Saturday against Kamehameha at the Keaau High courts, Alviento experienced another tough one to swallow. Old basketball foe Shaun Kagawa defeated him 6-3, 4-6, 10-5.
But if anyone can pick himself up after a loss and learn from it, that would be Alviento, a senior who started tennis as a sophomore.
“He’s super dedicated,” Rhyss said. “He can’t wait to come to practice and work. All the boys come as soon as the courts are open and play until sundown. They’re competitive and have a good friendly competition and push each other. But they really fight for their spots. The group is fun to coach.”
Santos, who beat Matt Yamamoto 6-4, 6-4, didn’t play tennis at his home country’s high school, but he did play for a club team.
The new Cougar is another one with a competitive streak. His game is built around the old-fashioned blueprint of big serve and hit hard.
“He’s a hard hitter and he’s got a powerful first serve,” Rhyss said. “He’s a dedicated singles player and he’s a fighter. He said he wants to play No. 1 singles.”
Ines and Longboy were in contention to be No. 1 singles players, but Rhyss liked the way they worked together and figured they would fit well at doubles.
They defeated Dustin Kekaualua and Eric Moke-Rabang 6-2, 6-3.
“They communicate and have a good demeanor,” Rhyss said. “Those two have a dynamic and will do their homework and practice at it. They’ll focus on the fundamentals. For example, both needed a stronger second serve.
“They were really dedicated to the fundamentals and they worked to get a nice stroke on their second serve. It’s carried them.”
Alviento, Simeon-Paulino, and Ines are seniors while Longboy is a sophomore. Another inspirational senior is girls No. 2 singles player Cherese Shelton, who defeated Kalei Lee 6-3, 4-6, 7-3.
“She’s somebody who keeps her head together in long matches,” Rhyss said. “She’s the one who keeps the team together, makes sure everybody is cohesive. She has a lot of things outside of school. She’s an excellent student and is involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters (a mentoring program for youth).
“If you tell her she needs to work on something, like her back hand, she’s confident and strong. If it takes a long time, she won’t get frustrated. She’ll go out and work on her form, and her backhand is getting stronger, and I think she’ll grow as a player.”