Improved Kubasaki eyes Okinawa tennis bragging rights

Education
Four-year Kubasaki high school tennis veteran Mark Ebarle is Kubasaki's No. 1 boys singles seed. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
Four-year Kubasaki high school tennis veteran Mark Ebarle is Kubasaki's No. 1 boys singles seed. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

Improved Kubasaki eyes Okinawa tennis bragging rights

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 20, 2014

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – For years, the narrative of Kubasaki tennis was, if the girls team was competitive, the boys weren’t or vice versa.

Dragons coach Stephanie Davis, who’s been at helm since 2009, hasn’t had both.

Until now, that is.

Behind hard-striking Brenden Neu, Kubasaki’s boys captured titles in the Okinawa Activities Council district singles and doubles tournaments a season ago. Most of that boys team except for Neu is back.

They’re joined by a girls team that, for the first time since the 2008-10 seasons, possesses the needed depth to make a run at long-dominant Kadena for similar honors at the district tournaments, and perhaps make a dent at the Far East tournament in November.

“We’ve grown the girls and now we have a really balanced team of boys and girls,” Davis said Wednesday, a day before the teams played their second regular-season meet.

“It’s always been either the boys have done really good or the girls have done really good. This crew has grown up together and now they’re both really fun to watch.”

It’s a team of veterans, all except a couple having been in Davis’ program for at least two years.

Senior Mark Ebarle, who’s been in Dragon green and white for four years, teamed with Neu to win those district titles a year ago.

“Any time that happens, it makes everybody stop and say, ‘Hey, you know what? That can be me,’” Davis said.

Ebarle “has just grown, each and every year. He’s such a great young man and such a great competitor. And he works so hard.”

Ebarle, who possesses a hard serve and forehand, says he prefers baseball. He plays tennis year-round, though, and on weekends will bang the ball around with teammates Allie Powers and Adam Sani.

Powers is also a senior who takes lessons at Kadena Air Base’s pro shop three times a week and plays on and off base against Japanese and adult players. She calls tennis a “passion.”

Same goes for diminutive sophomore Haley Agra, who also plays year round, against her tennis-playing father and in tournaments on or off base, “as many as I can do.” Her signature shot is her backhand.

Sarah Walter, another senior in her second season with the program, tried cross country, softball and soccer and says she’s finally found “a sport that I’m good at.” She also plays year-round.

Mary Neitzke, a sophomore, takes lessons once a week and plays on and off base in tournaments, sometimes against adults.

Sani only plays in season and doesn’t take lessons – “I never thought about it,” – he said. But he also possesses some hard-hitting tools on the forehand side. Eric Heck, a third-year player, also doesn’t take lessons but gets plenty of advice from his father, John, a 1988 Kubasaki graduate.

The younger players, especially, look up to the veterans and they see that “they can get there, too,” Davis said.

“It’s really motivating. Their skill level has improved, whether it’s working on the courts here or working on their own. Obviously, I have more kids taking lessons than I’ve had in the past, which has really helped a lot with technique.”

Ebarle believes a deep run into the Far East tourney could be in the cards. “We haven’t been this good in a long time, in the years I’ve been here,” he said. “I think we can go a lot farther than we did last year, rack up a few more points, get a good finish.”

Davis said the Dragons would give it their all every time they step on the court.

“We go back to the fact that anybody can win on any given day,” she said. “It’s attitude. It’s a drive. It’s what you want to put out there. And they have it. They’re excited. They’re going to face every opponent, give them the respect they deserve and go out there and go hard.”

ornauer.dave@stripes.com