By Ben Ray, Contributor
What seemed like a standard high school tennis match between the best team and an average team on the surface had much more going on beneath the surface.
Auburn Riverside High School faced Thomas Jefferson High School on Sept. 30 on TJ’s brand new tennis courts. They’ve had the courts open and ready for only four weeks.
The match was Auburn Riverside’s second of the week and Thomas Jefferson’s fifth. A normal week for these teams is two matches like Riverside, but for TJ head coach Andrew Buchan, it was a long week.
“Everyone is tired. It is a lot of tennis. We have been getting home at 7:30 at night,” he said. “As a team, we have tried different lineups, we have mixed it around a little bit and the players are tired too.”
Tim Kuykendall, head coach of the Auburn Riverside Ravens, has four seniors who are led by the Cegielski twins — who, on top of their internet fame with over three million followers on Tik Tok, also dominate on the court. The leadership and skill of the twins has helped elevate the Ravens this season.
“Never underestimate the power of two really high level players. They really help bring your whole team up to another level. That has been this particular team’s strength,” Kuyukendall said. He also recognizes the practice strategies passed down from former head coach Bruce Diehl work really well for his team. “Bruce ran a great tight ship. I give a lot of credit to him. We do a lot of the same stuff. From warm-ups to practice, and even the drills we call EDD’s (Everyday Drills).”
Kuykendall also brought up his roster depth. He has up to three different combinations of doubles teams competing for varsity time at third doubles.
“When you do end up having competitions at practice, your teammates at practice make you stronger,” he said. “These guys are all great players.”
Buchan wants to get back to the championship level. TJ had won district titles in boys and girls tennis back in 2019. But since then, Buchan hasn’t held serve — TJ tennis has been without courts since the summer of 2019. The new school was built right on the old tennis courts, and then the pandemic hit, which slowed down the process of getting his program back on track. But the future is bright for the TJ Raiders.
“I feel like I could have two of the best players in the league next year and they’ll only be sophomores, and that makes a big difference. We are trying to build the championship mentality once again,” Buchan said.
Riverside ended up winning the match 3-2, but TJ made the top dog sweat a little bit. The high powered Cegielski twins got the Ravens out to an early 2-0 lead. Daniel Cegielski beat freshman Sanchit Sharma (6-1, 6-1). Followed by his brother who was playing doubles, Matthew Cegielski and Roman Lopes took down Mateo Howe and Marcos Andrade (6-2, 6-1). Both matches were the top singles and doubles matchups, respectively. TJ bounced back to win second doubles and singles, tying the match overall at 2-2. The deciding match came down to the third doubles contest — Allen Nguyen and Caleb Choi ultimately came out on top over Vincent Pham and Lucas Speelmon. Nguyen and Choi took the Raiders to a tiebreaking set (3-6, 7-6 (9), 10-7).
The match played out how both coaches expected. For Kuykendall, he had a lot of respect for TJ.
“There have been a lot of good players at the Federal Way schools. Our guys really like to compete. The better the match the more fun our guys have,” he said.
And for Buchan, he knows the talent that Riverside possesses, but his eye is set on the future.
“I want to build a championship team,” he said. “We realize we won’t win it this year, but we want to win it next year.”