By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Because Karl Sloss pulls double-duty, the opportunity doesn’t arise as often as he may like. But when he can, the University of Hawaii at Hilo tennis coach likes to get on the court to volley back and forth with his players at practice.
Sloss sees a women’s team with a higher ceiling than last year, and a men’s team with increased depth.
In both cases — considering the Vulcans’ budget constraints — Sloss realizes one key is managing expectations.
“On the men’s side our goal is to win a conference match, and I think we can do it,” Sloss said. “For the women, we want to reach the league tournament, and I believe we can do it.”
Thanks in part to community fundraisers, UHH has paid all of its bills for the season. The uniforms are fitted, there are new campus practice courts and the Vulcans will make one trip to the Oahu and another to the mainland.
“The tennis community has been great,” Sloss said. “We’ve worked together and exceeded goals.”
The Pacific West Conference doesn’t mandate a league schedule, so as a result, UHH is hitting the road for all of its matches. For the second consecutive season, the Vulcans won’t play on campus, but they open the season at 2 p.m. today against BYU-Hawaii at their home away from home: Holua Resort at Mauna Loa Village in Kailua-Kona.
Both of UHH’s Nos. 1 singles players hail from Down Under.
Tom Greer-Smith, a senior from Australia, returns to the top of the men’s rotation, and Sloss said he did an admirable job last season despite recovery from a nagging injury.
“Tom has a good range of shots and is a thinker on the court,” Sloss said. “He was competitive with just about everybody but one player, and this season he’s gotten better at his service.”
Greer-Smith will also play No. 1 doubles along with sophomore Kainoa Rosa, who will hold down No. 2 singles.
The rest of the singles lineup consists of junior Nicolas Franco along with three Big Islanders: junior Kallen Mizuguchi, sophomore Spencer Travalino and freshman Daniel Tada.
Mizuguchi, who won a Hawaii High School Athletic Association championship doubles title his senior season at Waiakea but sat out last year, will team up at No. 2 doubles with Tada, a Hilo graduate who was the Big Island Interscholastic Federation singles runner-up last season.
Travalino, a three-time BIIF champion at Kealakehe, will be play No. 3 doubles with senior Thomas Dols.
“Spencer is hitting a heavier ball on the forehand and is stepping in and being more aggressive,” Sloss said. “Daniel’s strength is probably his returns. We expect good things from him in doubles.”
Numbers were tougher to come by on the women’s side, but Sloss got creative to find eight players.
Sloss recruited Trixie Croad, a freshman from New Zealand, off the UHH volleyball team, and she impressed enough in practice to gain the top spot in the lineup.
“She’s ranked in New Zealand,” Sloss said. “She puts good spin on the ball and should provide a real boost to our team.”
Sophomore Chelsea Sato, a Waiakea graduate, is poised to play bigger matches this season at No. 2 singles, while the top doubles tandem is set with Morrisa Kahakui, the team’s only senior, and Rachel Sugiyama.
The other local product on the women’s side is Keaau graduate Megan Fujitake, a junior who will play singles and doubles, along with Jessica Malapit. Shanise Kaaikala rounds out the singles lineup.
The Vulcans and Seasiders also play at 9 a.m. Friday at Holua, then UHH turns around and plays UC San Diego at 2 p.m. On Monday, UHH plays Hawaii Pacific at 9 a.m.