Having finished fifth in the district tournament a year ago, the Meadowdale junior was motivated to improve his conditioning, leading him to the Washington Institute of Sports Medicine in Kirkland. One day a week over the summer, Ekern traveled to Kirkland and underwent a grueling one-hour workout that left him drained and unable to even pick up his racket. One workout in particular was key. Ekern would have to run on a treadmill with tension bands around his waist and a coach pulling him back.
Wednesday all that work paid off. Aided by his improved conditioning, Ekern defeated Stanwood's Jonathan Wolf 6-4, 6-2 in the championship match of the 3A District 1 boys tennis tournament at Resilience Fitness in Stanwood. Both players advance to next spring's state tournament.
"Overall Nick's work ethic leading up to this match was big," said Meadowdale head coach Mark Schneider. "He knew what game he needed to bring to the match. The difference this year was he built the blocks along the way to be ready for this match."
Ekern was succinct in describing his emotions after winning: "It feels incredible. It's the best."
In the consolation final, Glacier Peak's Patrick Luangrath beat Shorecrest's Andrew Copsey 7-5, 6-2 to earn the final singles state berth from District 1. In doubles play, Shorewood's Cameron McDowell and Stuart Schachle beat Shorecrest's Chris Sato and Nick North 6-3, 6-3 to win the doubles title, and Shorecrest's Evan Saunders and Nishaant Limaye beat Stanwood's Eric Saekow and Jonathan Spores to earn the final doubles state berth from the district.
The match between Ekern and Wolf in the singles championship was a familiar one. Ekern and Wolf are good friends and they both play under the same coach, Jesse Schouten at Columbia Athletic Club in Silver Lake. They played against each other and with each other a lot since meeting a little more than two years ago.
"We play doubles together and practice together a lot," Wolf said. "We know each others' games inside and out so sometimes before somebody hits the ball we're already running because we know where it's going to go."
The showdown was also a rubber match for the two players. Ekern and Wolf split their two matches during the regular season, including the most previous match on Sept. 21 in which Wolf won ironically by the same score as Wednesday's match, 6-4, 6-2.
Ekern said his mental preparation for Wednesday's match was the key to turning the result around from the last time the two played. Before the match he took a quiet moment in the weight room of the fitness center to skip some rope and calm his nerves.
"A lot of times when I'm nervous my feet tend to slow down and I don't take as many steps to the ball so I can't set up and really hit my shots," Ekern said. "But today my timing was great and I was setting up really well. My shot selection was probably the biggest thing, hitting the ball to the right place and mixing it up; just doing whatever I could to get the ball by him.
Ekern used a powerful forehand to dictate the pace of the match. After winning a hard-fought first set, Ekern jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second set by pushing Wolf around the court with precision shots. It was something that Wolf said he wasn't surprised to see.
"He often dictates the pace more and I tend to defend more," Wolf said. "That's the way it's always been."
Though they're close friends, Wolf was quick to point out that things change when they step between the lines.
"We're good friends but we're also really competitive," Wolf said.
At Stanwood H.S.
Singles--Championship: Nick Ekern (M) def. Jonathan Wolf (Stan) 6-4, 6-2; Third-place: Patrick Luangrath (GP) def. Andrew Copsey (SC) 7-5, 6-2. Consolation round: Copsey def. Ulises Aceves (Ev) 6-1, 3-0, injury def., Luangrath def. Logan Keebler (SW) 6-0, 6-3. Doubles--Championship: Cameron McDowell-Stuart Schachle (SW) def. Chris Sato-Nick North (SC) 6-3, 6-3; Third-place: Evan Saunders-Nishaant Limaye (SC) def. Eric Saekow-Jonathan Spores (Stan) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Consolation round: Saunders-Limaye def. Jordan Hill-Julian Gonzalez (GP) 6-3, 6-0; Saekow-Spores def. Eric Allen-Luong Hau (Ev) 6-3, 6-0.
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