By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
In tennis terms, Karl Sloss’ first attempt to take over at the University of Hawaii at Hilo can roughly be equated to a let serve. The day that Sloss applied for the job was the very same day that the Vulcans hired Scott Hansen.
As fate would have it, however, Hansen abruptly stepped down in October after only a few months on the job and without ever coaching a match.
So Sloss became Kula Oda’s successor after all, saying, “I just fell into it.”
Though even before he got the job, Sloss already had moved from Oahu and was working at Hilo Yacht Club and with local tennis instructor Randy Kunimoto. Even before the Vulcans took the court, those experiences firmly established his appreciation for Big Island tennis.
“I really feel like I belong here,” he said. “I didn’t realize how big tennis is here. I didn’t realize how many people play and how the love of the game is here.
“The community saved the tennis team, and there’s a continued interest in tennis that’s exciting.”
His will be just one of the many new faces on display when the men’s team debuts at 2 p.m. today against Cal San Diego at Holua Resort at Mauna Loa Village. The women join the men Saturday against Hawaii Pacific at Holua, and UHH’s only match of the season on campus will be at 9 a.m. Monday when the men host Cal San Diego.
The season-opening trip to West Hawaii will be a homecoming of sorts for freshman Spencer Travalino. The Kealakehe graduate will play Nos. 2 singles and doubles after exhibiting the same trait in preseason practice that helped make him a three-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion: determination.
“That boy wants to win,” Sloss said. “He wants to get the ‘W.’ He’s a hard worker, he’s really focused and he wants it. It’s refreshing to be around someone like that, and it’s rewarding to work with a player like that.”
UHH carries only seven players on each roster — six is the minimum — so avoiding injuries is paramount.
Sophomore Makoa Rosa is the only returning player on a young men’s team, however Sloss said he was pleasantly surprised with the talent on hand when he took over.
Junior Tom Greer-Smith, an Australia native who transferred from Temple (Texas) College, takes the top singles spot and will play with freshman Kainoa Rosa at No. 1 doubles.
“They have good chemistry working together,” said Sloss, who’s assisted by Ryan Coffey. “Tom’s got solid volleys and returns, and Kainoa’s got a big forehand and serve. Their balance works well together.”
Freshman Michael Davis will team up with Travalino in doubles play, while the third tandem features Makoa Rosa and Caden Yamamoto, a Waiakea graduate who will also play at the back of a singles lineup that also includes Kainoa Rosa (No. 3), Davis (No. 4) and sophomore Prycen Haas (No. 5).
The girls team has more experience, but it also must replace more talent at the top. Sophomore Emelie Laussen of Sweden has separated herself from the field a bit, often practicing against the men to get greater competition.
Her coach calls her an excellent counterpuncher.
“She’s a grinder,” Sloss said. “She knows how to play and construct a point. When you drill a ball at her, she can handle the pace and send it back just as fast.”
Anna Hamlin possesses a big forehand, making her the perfect complement to countrywoman Laussen at No. 1 doubles.
Following the two Swedes in the singles lineup are sophomore Rachel Sugiyama, junior Morrisa Kahakui and sophomores Megan Fujitake and Cassidy Hand.
Sugiyama and Kahakui will handle No. 2 doubles, while Fujitake, a walk-on from Keaau High, will team with Hand.