Glacier Peak High School’s Dario Ristovski and Lake Stevens’ Ethan Hoglund were able to walk away from the 2019 Class 4A Northwest District boys tennis tournament knowing they had achieved one of their biggest goals for their junior seasons.
Ristovski and Hoglund entered the season with aspirations of qualifying for the state tournament. Both conquered that feat with their performance at districts.
Ristovski earned his spot by finishing second at the district singles tournament, marking the second straight season he finished as a runner-up at the tournament and qualified for state. Hoglund clinched his first-ever state berth as a doubles player alongside senior partner Tyler Cochran by claiming the district tournament’s doubles title.
The boys tennis season is played during the fall in the four districts that cover Western Washington. It’s played in the spring in the five districts on the east side of the state where the state tournament is also held in late May. So that meant Ristovski and Hoglund needed to wait seven months for the payoff to their efforts.
Nearly two months before the state tournament was scheduled, the news came schools in the state would be closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, officially ending all prep athletic competitions that were scheduled to take place during the spring.
The news was tough for many boys tennis player on the west side of the state. The decision meant they’d be the only fall sports athletes that didn’t get to participate in their sport’s state tournament.
“It was really just kind of heartbreaking … neither of us thought districts was going to be the last time we got to play a competitive match together,” said Hoglund, referencing his doubles partner Cochran. “… It was really just a big letdown and kind of just made me question, like, if I even wanted to play tennis again because (the state tournament) got taken away and this is what our career has been put towards.”
Said Ristovski: “When we were already going through the stages of COVID and March was already looking kind of bad, I kind of had a feeling that state was going to be canceled. When the news was actually official … I kind of expected it. But, you know, it was a bummer because I really wanted to (finish in) the top three (at state). I was hungry.”
The announcement came after months of training during the break between districts and the state tournament. Hoglund said he and his partner were hitting the courts about six times a week between playing at clubs and finding dry days to practice outdoors. Ristovski also spent countless hours through the winter months in preparation for the singles tournament.
“For me tennis is all year around, every single day,” Ristovski said. “… I never took a day off for the winter. When the indoor facilities closed, I had to go to my local elementary school and hit against the wall in the undercover area and go on runs and all of that. It was never a thought in my mind to take a break or anything.”
As seniors, neither will have a chance to make a postseason run. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association doesn’t have any state tournaments planned this school year, and teams across Wesco won’t be competing in a postseason of their own.
Rather than hang on the disappointment of missing out on their state tournament opportunities, Hoglund and Ristovski are spending their final high school season paying it forward as leaders in their respective programs.
“This year we were definitely going to have, debatably, the strongest team our school’s ever seen with a lot of younger guys that have really been putting in a lot of work and playing a lot of club and preps themselves,” Hoglund said. “I just kind of felt like since I was the one they kind of looked up to, it wouldn’t be fair for me to walk out on them.”
Lake Stevens head coach Mark Hein said he couldn’t be prouder of Hoglund’s approach to the year, which has resulted in Hein letting his senior help lead drills with the younger players.
“He’s really earned the right in our program to give kids feedback, to help them get better, and he has the heart to do it as well,” Hein said. “For what a situation it is for him to lose out on so much, I feel like he has been very unselfish and looking to say, ‘How can I have other people gain in this time?’”
Hoglund called those opportunities “validating.”
“My team, my peers and my coach are at least seeing the work I put in and recognizing everything that I’ve put into the game,” he said.
This season Hoglund is getting a chance to focus more on singles play, allowing him to put the progress he made while training for last year’s state tournament to the test. He’s held down the No. 1 singles spot for the Vikings in their first two matches.
“I want him to have those opportunities, too,” Hein said. “I don’t want it to just be about … the benefit of others. I want the hard work he’s put out to have an outlet as well.”
Hoglund said he may play intramurals in college. He plans on attending Grand Canyon University.
Ristovski can often be found at two different practices during a day at Glacier Peak. Grizzlies coach Micah Perron said the team has had to split its practice time into varsity and junior varsity sessions. The two-time state qualifier attends some of the junior varsity practices to help coach and encourage his younger peers.
“To be able to give them tips and for them to look at me, not say a word, and I could tell they were paying attention and just listening to what I have to say, it’s really cool,” Ristovski said. “… They know that I take tennis very seriously.”
He’s also one of the loudest voices cheering on his teammates during matches.
“I take pride in trying to help my team out, trying to be as vocal as I can,” he said. “It’s my last year. I’m just trying to be the best person I could possibly be with my team and never be down.”
Perron said it was tough to break the news to his star player when the state tennis tournament was canceled. Perron’s known Ristovski since the senior was 4 years old and thought he had a legitimate shot at a state title.
“We’ve spent countless hours during summer camps and our team seasons grinding and training,” Perron said. “Sharing similar interests in music, sports and especially tennis, I’ve really come to enjoy Dario as a person. Our discussions during road trips to matches or during our workout breaks will be missed as much as his play as he moves on from Glacier Peak. He deserves all the recognition he can get for his attitude, hard work, and mentality throughout this whole Covid ordeal.”
Ristovski has his sights set on playing tennis at the NCAA Division-I level. He mentioned Portland State University and Seattle University as schools he’d like to play at, noting the chance to stay close to home in college.
Until then, he’ll enjoy playing out the final few weeks of his high school career.
“I’m waking up and I’m doing what I love,” he said, “and there’s nothing better than that.”