Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Smarts, skills bring state tennis title back to WRHS

Doubles gold from Grossbaum, Grabow gives Hailey first crown since 1988

Express Staff Writer

This year’s State 4A mixed doubles silver medal team, senior Morgan Pike and junior Jessica Hamilton of Hailey’s Wood River High School, poses with their medals inside the “Boas Bubble” Saturday in Boise.

If you're in the mood for a story about brainy teenage boys who also excel in athletics, this might be the story for you. If you like to hear about good things happening to people who have suffered some bad breaks, you might read further.

Even Sage School teacher and co-founder Harry Weekes, a perpetually curious Professor of Life Science, might find this interesting. And Weekes majored in Star Trek and minored in ice hockey during his education, which is a real exacta of the erudite plus brute force.

So, what does this all have to do with Sage School sophomores Raleigh Grossbaum and Charlie Grabow, the animated boys' doubles team that Wood River High School tennis coach Vicki Johnston affectionately calls "my quirky ones?"

First of all, Grossbaum and Grabow don't look the part in high school boys' doubles, which can be real macho with huge serves, overhead smashes and general intimidation. They're skinny, wear their hats traditionally with the brims in front, and look like they could hammer you in speed chess.

"They're strategizers," said Johnston. "They don't over-hit and they have a game plan—making plays out there. Playing doubles is like playing chess for them. And they work hard to give away as few points as possible. For them, it's all about good communication."

Grossbaum and Grabow, who attend Sage School but are permitted to play spring tennis for Wood River, were two of the 14 Wolverine team members who competed Friday and Saturday at the State 4A tournament in Boise. As Wood River's #2 boys' doubles team, they weren't expected to win it all.

Such low expectations were lost on high achiever Grossbaum. He always expected to win the state boys' doubles championship with his partner Grabow, the coaches said.

Johnston said she told Raleigh and Charlie at the beginning of the season that they would be #2 boys' doubles because she was giving the #1 spot to veteran seniors Brendan Freund and R.J. Forgeon.

She added, "And Raleigh and Charlie were okay with that. They thought about it for a minute and came to the conclusion that, yeah, we can still win state as #2. I guess winning state was their plan all along."

And that's exactly what Grossbaum and Grabow ended up doing Saturday on the Boise State University Boas Tennis Center indoor courts.

With rain pounding down atop the "Boas Bubble" and some snow seeping in, Grossbaum and Grabow completed their Cinderella 4-0 run through the two-day meet with a 6-2, 6-3 championship match triumph over brothers Taylor Neville and Hunter Neville from Hillcrest of Idaho Falls.

The victory was decisive in Wood River's 41-39 boys' state championship decision over Hillcrest. It gave the Wolverines their first state tennis title in 22 years, since 1988, and their fourth overall. If Grossbaum and Grabow had lost the match to the Nevilles, Wood River would have been second.

Overall, it was a terrific state tournament for Wood River resulting in the Hailey school's 18th state team championship overall and first since 2003—and the first-ever team championship at the 4A level.

Taking second place in mixed doubles were senior Morgan Pike and junior Jessica Hamilton. In third place was sophomore Karl Wilander in boys' singles. Also medaling in fourth place after an opening-round upset loss were senior Lauren Reutter and Margaret Reutter in girls' doubles.

It was a total team effort, Wood River's 60 combined points between boys' and girls' events surpassing the 51 points of Hillcrest, two-time defending state combined champion.

The Wolverines won 18 of their 32 matches and excelled in doubles, where they amassed 45 of their 60 tourney points.

And that wasn't all for the happy group of honor rollers.

Moments before Wood River joyously accepted its first-place boys' team trophy from Idaho High School Activities Association assistant director Julie Hammons, the Wolverine boys collected their trophy for winning the State Academic Championship (3.712 GPA).

There was another important backdrop to the Wood River success story. It was unspoken tide of emotion, pride and good feeling that filtered through the entire Hailey entourage of proud parents and students as they gathered around coach Johnston at the Boas Center for photos after the trophy presentation.

It was the same emotion that caused hundreds of Wood River parents and students to rise to their feet and give fifth-year coach Johnston a thunderous standing ovation when she received the coveted Bob Shay trophy as Wood River's "Coach of the Year" May 15 in Hailey.

The emotion was empathy for Johnston, tragically widowed last Oct. 23 when her husband Todd, 41, died of heart failure during a mountain bike ride near Moab, Utah.

For the community, such a development seemed unimaginable at the time. The energetic and active couple, married 17 years, had previously lost a daughter, Skylar. Two other children and a strong support network boosted her spirits. But how could such a thing befall Vicki, known for being so optimistic, unassuming, cheerful and positive?

Saturday's successful conclusion to the state meet was heart-warming for all those involved, especially since it happened in the BSU Boas Center, which was funded through the donations of Vicki's parents, Gerald and Bev Boas of Sun Valley. And Vicki's proud father was in attendance.

Hard work nets winning results

Wood River's first state tennis title after 22 long years of doing without was an ending that should have happened.

The winning Wolverine coach in 1988, retired teacher Nancy Williams, was in the house Saturday. But the world doesn't work in should-ahs. In this galaxy you have to work hard for what you get.

That's why Johnston was out on the outdoor court at BSU's Appleton Center Saturday morning—four hours before the boys' doubles championship match and two hours before a rain deluge forced the championship matches indoors to the "Boas Bubble."

She doesn't make a big deal of her athleticism, so you tend to forget what a fine tennis player Johnston is. She played for Boise State, singles and doubles, from 1988-92. She made Big Sky Conference honorable mention in 1992. The "Boas Bubble" was built after her junior year. She was honored to bring a team as a coach in 2010.

But Saturday morning, Johnston was down in the trenches, working on "reflex volleys" with Grossbaum.

They stood across the net, facing each other, close to the net in the forecourts. They hammered pinball-like volleys back and forth without letting the ball touch the court or fly away. They had a look of sheer joy in what they were doing.

"Nobody beats the coach," said Wolverine parent Tim Hamilton, watching the workout with admiration.

Johnston said, "I like to reinforce (net work) over and over. It makes you more comfortable at the net so you can't be scared out there. You should be expecting every ball to come back at you. If you concentrate on doing it 20 minutes every day, at the end of a practice session, it tends to pay off."

Coaching the Wood River tennis team with the support of trusted assistant coaches Marcia Grabow and Eleanor Jewett, both Wood River High School teachers, was therapeutic for Johnston this spring.

It gave her a vehicle to express her enthusiasm—and to recall the passionate enthusiasm that her husband brought to all his varied interests.

She was rewarded with a special Wood River tennis team, perhaps the best Wolverine team ever in a long line of skilled squads. Unbeaten in league, Wood River (11-0 dual matches, 8-0 league) dominated 11 opponents this spring—winning by a combined 123-9 score counting boys and girls.

Like several of their teammates, Grossbaum and Grabow were nearly unbeatable in the season, winning their matches by 6-0, 6-1 scores and the like.

They lost once, to #1 Twin Falls seniors Andrew Bortz and Daniel Olsen. In the state-qualifying Great Basin Conference meet, Grossbaum and Grabow were equally dominant, winning five times in straight sets for third place and losing only to Bortz and Olsen, the first set a tiebreaker.

Charlie Grabow is coach Marcia Grabow's nephew.

Halfway through the state tourney, after easy Grossbaum-Grabow victories over older teams from Century and Bonneville, coach Grabow marveled at their confidence, at "how they just think they're going to win state. They're very good at exploiting the weaknesses of other teams."

What made them so effective was their guile, plus shotmaking ability and the fact that opponents constantly underestimated them. From all appearances, the reasoning of their southern Idaho opponents went, Grossbaum and Grabow looked like just another pair of Wood River Valley goofballs.

Certainly they made strong shots and powerful serves. But many of their returns had all the velocity of a Tim Wakefield knuckleball guaranteed to baffle and befuddle their foes. As Grabow said, with restraint, "We try to place our shots."

Their court demeanor was hyperactive energy that resembled a stage crew setting up for the main concert act. By the time opponents realized Grossbaum and Grabow were the main act, they were down a set.

Call them annoying—foes probably muttered something stronger—but Grossbaum and Grabow constantly communicated. Whether they won or lost a point, they would come over to each other and pump their hands and put their heads together to devise their next play, like a sandlot football game.

Grossbaum was the quarterback, sketching the plays. Grabow was the enforcer, dinking little diddly shots into the doubles alley for critical points.

The Grossbaum and Grabow conferences tended to irritate opponents who didn't have as much to discuss between each other. There was also the time limit factor. Someone brought it up, Grossbaum said, so he learned that their huddles would subsequently be timed, under 20 seconds for instance.

It gave Grossbaum and Grabow another strategizing angle. They practiced on talking for just 18 seconds and thus falling within the rules. They were loosey-goosey, Grossbaum sticking his finger in the middle of the strings and twirling the racquet during down time.

Ninety percent of the time, their net work produced points, despite all the hectic back-and-forth. After their title match win over the Nevilles from Hillcrest, Grossbaum said, "A big part was we stayed really active in our net game. That really confused them. We knew they were brothers and they could get a little frustrated."

All wasn't hunky-dory. His coaches said Grossbaum had traveled a country mile in controlling his emotions and temper since he competed at the state tournament as a freshman in mixed doubles last May. But it did flare up last weekend.

During the semi-final match against Skyview's Tony Agenbroad and Lyle Haskill, Grossbaum "had issues with his temper," Johnston said. He got upset with a line call and Johnston got cross with him. His outburst was poor sportsmanship, Johnston told him, adding that if he kept it up, she would pull him off the court.

"You need to play tennis and play every point," Johnston told him. "He has grown up so much compared to last year. I can reach out to him. He listens and respects me."

Grossbaum and Grabow, playing a rare split-set match, went on to beat the Skyview pair 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Then they picked apart the Nevilles—Grossbaum finishing the match from the forecourt with an overhead smash right on the doubles sideline, and then turning to hug partner Grabow.

"Hillcrest started strong in the second set but we stepped it up in the changeovers," said Grossbaum. "And Charlie was so steady and strong—it's the best he's ever played at state."

Although the championship match results are plain as day, the closely guarded state secret of the team points always waits until the final match of the tournament is completed. So Grossbaum and many of the other competitors had some time on their hands inside the "Boas Bubble" before tournament director Hammons revealed the results calculated by an off-site computer program.

While his contemporaries spent their time texting and socializing, Grossbaum was probably the only one of the 128 players who had precisely calculated the boys' team points and realized that Wood River had more points than Hillcrest.

Good-naturedly, he badgered Hammons, assuring her that Wood River was #1. It was just another service provided by the 4A State Academic champions.

Asked about how he kept his cool during the championship match when things went wrong—and there were times when the Neville brothers drilled winners that virtually knocked him off his feet—Grossbaum pondered the question for a moment.

You have to think about the next point. That point is over and done with, he said. There's nothing you can do about it. You have to focus on the positive, and the future, and putting the ball in the right place.

"I learned that from coach," he said, nodding at Johnston, who watched with tremendous pride nearby as the rain poured down on the "Boas Bubble.

NOTES—Other WRHS state titles: Baseball—2003. Girls' soccer—1995 and 2000. Boys' soccer—1998, 1999 and 2003. Tennis—1982, 1986 and 1988. Girls' cross country—1975, 1983 and 1984. Boys' cross country—1968, 1971 and 1972. Boys' track—1970 and 1972.

Overall team totals

1—Wood River (14 state qualifiers) 60 points. 2—Hillcrest of Idaho Falls (9) 51. 3—Century of Pocatello (10) 49. 4—Skyview of Nampa (10) 42. 5—Bonneville of Idaho Falls (9) 38.


1—Wood River 41 (4th state title, first since 1988). 2—Hillcrest 39. 3—Skyview 27. 4—Century 23. 5—Twin Falls 14.


1—Bonneville 29 (1st state title). 2—Century 26. 3—Bishop Kelly of Boise 25. 4—Blackfoot 22. 5—Wood River 19.

Points by category

(60)—Wood River 12 BS, 3 GS, 21 BD, 8 GD, 16 MD=60

1st—BD. 2nd—MD. 3rd—BS. 4th—GD.

(51)—Hillcrest 13 BS, 0 GS, 16 BD, 2 GD, 20 MD=51

1st—MD. 2nd—BD. 3rd—none. 4th—BS.

Boys singles

Championship—Josh Goodwin (Century freshman) 6-3, 7-5 over Kenny Dodd (Skyview senior)

Third place—Karl Wilander (WR sophomore) 6-1, 6-3 over Brody Wright (Hillcrest freshman)

Summary: WR 4-3 match record, 12 points BS

Local players

Karl Wilander (WR sophomore, 4-1)

Won 6-0, 6-1 over Jake Murin (Kuna senior)

Won 6-2, 6-1 over Kevin Kirby (Sandpoint sophomore)

Lost 6-1, 6-3 to Kenny Dodd (Skyview senior)

Won 6-1, 6-3 over Jake Murin (Kuna senior)

Won 6-1, 6-3 over Brody Wright (Hillcrest freshman—third place

Jordan Niedrich (WR senior, 0-2)

Lost 6-1, 6-0 to Josh Goodwin (Hillcrest freshman)

Lost 6-3, 6-2 to Ben Hardy (Sandpoint senior)

Girls singles

Championship—Olivia Wathne (Century freshman) 6-0, 6-1 over Shae Stults (Columbia junior)

Third place—Erica Shenton (Bonneville sophomore) 6-3, 6-2 over Kaylee Fennern (Bonneville sophomore)

Summary: WR 2-4 match record, 3 points GS

Local players

Ellen Davis (WR junior, 2-2)

Won 7-5, 6-3 over Esbeiba Ramos (Skyview sophomore)

Lost 6-2, 6-4 to Erica Shenton (Bonneville sophomore)

Won 6-3, 6-3 over Kristina Wineman (Nampa junior)

Lost 6-1, 6-1 to Kiley Heffner (Bishop Kelly junior)

Sloan Storey (WR sophomore, 0-2)

Lost 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 to Shae Stults (Columbia junior)

Lost 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 to Kristina Wineman (Nampa junior)

Boys doubles

Championship—Raleigh Grossbaum-Charlie Grabow (WR sophomores) 6-2, 6-3 over Taylor Neville-Hunter Neville (Hillcrest junior-freshman)

Third place—Andrew Bortz-Daniel Olsen (Twin Falls seniors) 6-2, 6-3 over Tony Agenbroad-Lyle Haskill (Skyview senior-sophomore)

Summary: WR 5-2 match record, 21 points BD

Local players

Raleigh Grossbaum-Charlie Grabow (WR sophomores, 4-0)

Won 6-3, 6-0 over Taylor Gordon-Kyle Kener (Century senior-junior)

Won 6-3, 6-2 over Cameron Housley-Tanner Roberts (Bonneville senior-junior)

Won 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 over Tony Agenbroad-Lyle Haskill (Skyview senior-sophomore)

Won 6-2, 6-3 over Taylor Neville-Hunter Neville (Hillcrest junior-freshman)—championship

R.J. Forgeon-Brendan Freund (WR seniors, 1-2)

Lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to John Lackey-Ryan Byers (Pocatello senior-junior)

Won 6-4, 6-2 over Michael Shreeve-David Durrant (Kuna junior-senior)

Lost 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to Cameron Housley-Tanner Roberts (Bonneville senior-junior)

Girls doubles

Championship—Megan Dalley-Meg Matsurra (Blackfoot senior-freshman) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 over Sara Carley-Sydney Weitz (Bishop Kelly juniors)

Third place—Olivia Raass-Samantha Field (Skyview seniors) 7-6 (3), 6-4 over Lauren Reutter-Margaret Reutter (WR senior-freshman)

Summary: WR 4-2 match record, 8 points GD

Local players

Lauren Reutter-Margaret Reutter (WR senior-freshman, 4-2)

Lost 3-6, 7-6 (13-11), 6-4 to Olivia Raass-Samantha Field (Skyview seniors)

Won 7-5, 6-1 over Hailey Larson-Katy Larson (Columbia junior-freshman)

Won 6-3, 6-1 over Jessica Loveland-Lindsey Loveland (Blackfoot senior-sophomore)

Won 6-4, 6-0 over Mattea Guner-Aubrey Burton (Century senior-junior)

Won 6-1, 7-5 over Jenny Sadler-Mandy Carlson (Bishop Kelly sophomores)

Lost 7-6 (3), 6-4 to Olivia Raass-Samantha Field (Skyview seniors)—third place

Mixed doubles

Championship—Riley Salmon-Kallie Ball (Hillcrest junior-senior) 6-2, 6-3 over Morgan Pike-Jessica Hamilton (WR senior-junior)

Third place—Sander Hadley-Karlie Standley (Pocatello junior-sophomore) 6-3, 6-3 over Robbie Owen-Kim Cooper (Bonneville seniors)

Summary: WR 3-3 match record, 16 points MD

Local players

Morgan Pike-Jessica Hamilton (WR senior-junior, 3-1)

Won 6-1, 6-0 over Austin Stratton-MaKelle Meyers (Emmett seniors)

Won 6-4, 6-1 over Nate Stacey-Brianne Baker (Bonneville seniors)

Won 6-1, 6-2 over Piper Wahlin-Mikka Nostdahl (Sandpoint seniors)

Lost 6-2, 6-3 to Riley Salmon-Kallie Ball (Hillcrest junior-senior)—championship

William Eagan-Hannah Baybutt (WR junior-sophomore, 0-2)

Lost 6-1, 6-0 to Sander Hadley-Karlie Standley (Pocatello junior-sophomore)

Lost 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, 7-5 to Ethan McIlhargey-Jessica Reynolds (Kuna sophomore-senior)


Points by singles/doubles—

60—Wood River (18-14 all matches)—15 points singles (6-7), 45 points doubles (12-7)

State team championships (42nd time):

2010 (4A)—Wood River (boys, 4th state title) and Bonneville (1st state title)

2009 (4A)—Hillcrest (boys) and Hillcrest (girls, 4th and 5th state titles)

2008 (4A)—Hillcrest (boys) and Hillcrest (girls, 2nd and 3rd state titles)

2007 (4A)—Bishop Kelly (17th state title)

2006 (4A)—Bishop Kelly (16th state title) and Hillcrest

2005 (4A)—Bishop Kelly (15th state title)

2004 (4A)—Bishop Kelly

2003 (4A)—Vallivue. 2002 (4A)—Vallivue. 2001 (4A)—Bishop Kelly.

1998-2000 (Class B)—Bishop Kelly. 1997—Jerome.

1996—Homedale. 1995—Bishop Kelly. 1993-94—Parma. 1992—Jerome.

1991—Parma. 1989-90—Jerome. 1988—Wood River. 1987—Vallivue.

1986—Wood River. 1985—Jerome. 1983-84—Bishop Kelly. 1982—Wood River.

1981—Gooding. 1975-80—Bishop Kelly. 1973-74—Payette. 1972—Bishop Kelly.

1971—Parma. 1970—Parma and Jerome. 1968-69—Parma.

State team titles (big and small schools, since 1963)—Bishop Kelly 17, Capital 16, Borah 10, Parma 10, Centennial 8, Jerome 6, Boise 7, Hillcrest 5, Community School 5, Wood River 4, Vallivue 3, Meridian 3, Homedale 2, Idaho Falls 2, Payette 2, Bonneville 1, Gooding 1, Nampa 1, Twin Falls 1.

This was the 35th year Wood River represented at state.

State titlists (17—3 S, 14 D):

2010 (4A)—Raleigh Grossbaum and Charlie Grabow BD

2008 (4A)—Scott Pike and Morgan Pike BD.

2007 (4A)—Cory Rutkowski and Whitney DeBree MD.

2004—Jackie Safran and Devon Bunce, GD.

2003—Dixon Mooseau and Hadley DeBree MD.

2002—Ashley Lakey and Jessie Woodyard GD.

2001—Casey Werth and Vince Nagashima BD; Ned Flanagan and Aprilia Hagglof MD.

1989 and 1990—John Driscoll BS. 1986—John Jacoby BS.

1986—Marianne Moore and Ann Ferries GD.

1982—Adele Allender and Anise Morrow GD.

1980—Hal Sweasey and Lance Levy BD.

1979—Laura Newcomb and Eric Exline MD.

1979—Jonathan Angle and Kelly Coles BD.

1978—Jonathan Angle and Buddy Levy BD.

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