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In limbo

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    Waimea High School tennis coach Cyrus Tumbaga, from left, smiles with senior tennis players Wendell Batangan, Leslie Uri and Alvin Rafael, and coach Beverly Tumbaga, after an early-season practice. The senior captains have coped after their season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

WAIMEA — Waimea High School tennis player Wendell Batangan admitted the news of the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association suspending the season “indefinitely” wasn’t easy to process.

Spending an estimated six hours a day practicing the sport in the summer, Batangan, the Menehune No. 2 singles player, experienced tunnel vision. His goal: return to the state tournament.

During the winter, Batangan was a member of the Menehune soccer team, conditioning himself for spring tennis. He says coping with the news of the season suspension has been “difficult.”

“I felt devastated,” Batangan said. “All of those years I put into playing the sport, and I felt like I would have a high season. Once I heard about this, I became sad. I love the sport of tennis.”

Batangan now devotes his time to watching tennis matches three hours a day on YouTube.

He isn’t watching matches for his leisure, and he is studying with the intensity of a football coach studying game film.

“When I watch the tennis matches, I watch how they hit the ball, where they aim, and how they are with the ball,” Batangan said. “Watching (tennis) helps me visualize all of these situations that could happen in a match.”

Intrinsic motivation

Besides studying film, he usually works out three to four days a week trying to qualify for the state tournament as he did during his sophomore season of 2018.

Competing against off-island competition was affirmation Batangan needed to work harder.

“When I went to state, it was a whole different level,” Batangan recalled. “I had to turn it up a notch, and that is when I realized I needed to train harder than them because I didn’t have the resources as some of the other players sometimes did.”

Batangan still aspires to play at the collegiate level, or go into the Air Force.

“I will try to make it first to D-I, D-II or D-III,” Batangan said. “I know some of my friends play club tennis (at the college level) and train as hard as they can. I’ve been making videos, reaching out to coaches, and even club sport coaches.”

Menehune tennis coach Cyrus Tumbaga says he admires his kids’ diligence to the sport.

“Despite most of them having played their last match in high school, I know these kids will continue to play tennis for the rest of their lives,” Tumbaga said.

Tumbaga, who went to high school with his now-wife Beverly Tumbaga at Waimea, knows the continuity tennis can provide.

“Being on the tennis team itself is a big accomplishment,” Tumbaga said. “Just having great memories of being a part of a group of student-athletes with the common goal of winning can give the kids pride in functioning as a team. They will be teammates for life, and the friendships they formed will last forever.”

On their grind

Menehune No. 4 singles player Alvin Rafael was frustrated at the news of the HHSAA shortening the season.

Rafael, who participated in cross country to condition himself, and spent time at Hanapepe courts with his coaches, his team, and his cousin Gilson Guillermo, a former tennis player, said he felt like his time invested was squandered.

“I felt like all of this time I put into working hard during the season was for nothing,” Rafael said. “You work so hard to get to a point in your game, and you want to showcase your skills.”

Maintaining perspective

Rafael said he understands the big picture.

“I would like to push, and I believe things will eventually calm down,” Rafael said. “I believe there are a bigger cause and effect, and everything I do is on hold right now. I won’t question what we have to do for what is best for our community’s overall health.”

Leslie Uri, the No. 2 player in girls’ singles for Waimea High School, is now in her fourth year with the tennis program.

With Uri’s tennis season and senior year most likely over, she is trying to maintain a positive view of the season.

“Right now, I am trying my best to stay positive. It’s my senior year, and I want to spend time with my friends and have good memories,” Uri said. “With the situation what it is right now, there is nothing we can do. We need to pray and hope everyone is safe because the world is on pause. Pretty soon, everything will resume where it was.”

Uri would like to enjoy her senior year but said she maintains the proper perspective on trying to do her part to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has killed an estimated 20,000 people globally, according to recent World Health Organization statistics.

“With the season-ending too soon, it’s really out of our control, and I would prefer to stay safe,” Uri said.

•••

Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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