Oam, Merkley renew rivalry

In the 1970s, pro tennis had Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. In the 1990s, it had Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. In 2007, the Wesco has Richard Oam and Chad Merkley.

Jackson’s Oam defeated Snohomish’s Merkley in the Wesco 4A district championship match last season, and if both play as well as they would like, they may get the chance to reprise their championship match from a year ago.

The Timberwolves return a solid singles contingent featuring sophomore Robin Choi — who lettered last year as a freshman — and senior Brian Bae, who placed third in 4A district play last year and went to state in doubles.

But perhaps the most important returnee for Jackson is senior Oam, a two-year state participant who finished sixth at the state tournament in May. Oam hopes to cap his stellar high school career this season with a top-3 finish at state as Jackson looks to repeat as district champions.

“(Oam) has been improving every year,” Jackson head coach David Hutt said. “He’s a very consistent kid when he’s playing and win or lose, he has great composure.”

But despite the loaded Jackson singles lineup, the squad has some question marks to answer on the doubles side. The added pressure on the shoulders of Oam and his singles compatriots doesn’t seem to bother him, however.

“It puts more pressure on the singles players so I’m hoping to go (and have a) typical undefeated record,” Oam said.

Confidence certainly isn’t lacking in the mind of his coach either. Hutt expects Oam’s teammates to feed off his success during league play.

“You’re really confident he’ll get off a win,” Hutt said. “It has a trickle-down effect — everyone gets better. Richard’s success helps our whole program.”

Oam is definitely on the radar of other coaches around the league.

“Richie is the best in the conference,” said Kamiak head coach Victor Alinen.

Last season Jackson tied with Edmonds-Woodway for the Wesco South title before winning the district title outright. Hutt said he expects those two teams to compete for the top spot again. Shorewood and Kamiak, which finished third and fourth last season, should round out the top four.

The Wesco North figures to come down to Stanwood and Snohomish, which finished 1-2 in league play last year.

Merkley returns this year to lead the Snohomish squad that hopes to top Stanwood who seemed to have the Panthers’ number last year.

“(Merkley) is the No. 1 go-to guy — he’s going to set the tone for us,” said Snohomish head coach Dick Jansen. “But our depth is really good. He does the job by playing up front.”

Jansen also said the team has an unusual aggressive nature in addition to its depth.

“Every once in awhile you get a group of guys that really push the envelope,” Jansen said. “These guys aren’t bashful – they’re an aggressive bunch.”

Merkley added that the team has a closeness about it that should translate into success this season.

“I think we’re a pretty close bunch of tennis players,” he said. “We’ve been playing together for (a long time) … It’s good to see all the new faces coming in and the old faces from last year.”

Oam isn’t thinking too much about Merkley in what seems to be a destined October match — not that he readily admitted to, at least.

“I’m just kind of focusing on state,” Oam said. “I guess I should be thinking about districts, but even if Chad ends up beating me, I’ll see myself as a two-seed.”

If the two do meet again, it will probably be for the last time. While Merkley hopes to continue playing tennis in college at Loyola Marymount or Chapman University in southern California, Oam doesn’t play to pursue tennis beyond this year.

Merkley was also reticent about anticipating too much too soon.

“I want to take each match at a time and I don’t want to think to far ahead,” Merkley said. “You know, Richie’s a tough player and I think a match between me and him is probably going to be inevitable. But we’ll see.”

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