Hang around the Bellingham Tennis Club long enough and Red Raiders' Connor Thompson is bound to show up.
Tennis isn't Thompson's third priority or even second favorite sport. It is the Bellingham junior's sole focus.
Throw out Thompson's two doubles losses last season, and his 14-1 singles record earned him Bellingham's top regular season winning percentage. That includes graduated state placers E.J. Troutman and Auden Schilder. Sure, Thompson's wins came from the No. 3 or 4 singles spot, but this offseason he's made a conscious effort to elevate his game, and coach Steve Chronister has taken notice.
"Conner has played a lot in the offseason, and he has improved." Chronister said. "His serve is bigger. He's not very tall, but he goes up after it. His volleys have sharpened up, and when he strikes the ball there's a little bit of sting on them."
Thompson will need his freshly shaped game in 2013. He's no longer slated as a back-end varsity player. Chronister sees him as a No.1 or 2. Whether the Bellingham coach plays Thompson in singles or doubles is the bigger question, and Chronsiter's indecisiveness is a testament to Thompson's well-rounded game.
"I think Conner is the most versatile player, more than anybody I have," Chronister said. "He is good at singles and doubles, and I just think, more than anybody, he plays both well."
Thompson is part of a deep Bellingham pool of talent, which consists of Sam Ferguson, Charlie Carmichael, Logan Schilder, Nate Pearsall, Nick Nolan and Liam Miszczak to name a few. Chronister doesn't see a big difference between his presumed No. 1 player and maybe his fifth, sixth or even seventh guy. The fact Thompson can play either singles or doubles gives the Bellingham coach an extra chess piece come match day.
"I'd say right now, playing doubles he'd be part of our top team" Chronister estimated. "If he was playing singles, he'd probably be in the top two teams."
It makes no difference to Thompson. While he's more accustomed to singles, he's just pleased his versatility presents his coach more options.
That versatility begins with his style of play. Thompson has been regarded as more of a defensive baseline player in the past. He's utilized his quickness to track down balls hit to each corner of the court. He's now added an attack element and hopes to use it once he gets more comfortable during the season.
"I definitely have always been tagged as a baseline player and take a more defensive approach," Thompson said. "I have been working since I've been in high school on offense with my net play and approach shots."
Thompson will undoubtedly need this added dimension against the best the Northwest Conference has to offer.
Chronister quickly pointed out the drastic difference between a No. 4 singles player and a No. 1 player. It's a big adjustment, but one Thompson and Chronister believe he can handle.
"I think he's up to it, but moving up to No. 1 is a different deal," said the Bellingham coach. "You're playing the best guys around here, and they're used to winning a lot, and they don't like losing. Moving up is definitely an adjustment."
Still, Thompson doesn't feel added pressure to perform. Whether he's playing a weaker or stronger opponent, his objective is the same; play his best in order to help the team win.
"I feel the same pressure that I always have to win for my team," "Thompson said," but I definitely feel like more of a leader this year. It's a big jump (to No. 1), especially in our conference. Playing No.1 singles you have to play (Sehome's) Avery West, who is one of, if not the best player to ever play in the conference. I have to play a lot tougher and smarter."
The Red Raiders are aiming for a return to the top of the NWC standings after winning a league title in 2011 then settling for second behind a dominate Sehome club last season.
Given Sehome's pedigree, Bellingham is facing a monumental task when it comes to dethroning the Mariners. Even Chronister pegged Sehome as the preseason favorite, but the Red Raiders certainly have a group they're excited about, and Thompson is a main function of that equation.
"I think this year our team depth is really awesome, and we got a bunch of guys in practice playing each other in challenge matches wining one day and losing another," Thompson said. "We definitely got a lot of guys, and we're looking to do well and win a lot of matches."
And Thompson's hoping he'll stock pile enough wins to sneak into the state tournament, which is his ultimate individual goal.
"That is always the goal of a varsity player in the conference," Thompson said. "But as far as my goal for the season, I just want to win and help my team out. That's my only focus right now, to get as many wins as possible."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.