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Kentlake junior Derek Welch follows in his brothers’ footsteps to the Falcons tennis team | Tennis Family Ties
By Alexandra Bolton, for The Reporter
Tennis is in the Welch family’s DNA.
Junior Derek Welch continues a legacy started by his older brothers Landon, a 2007 graduate, and Taylor who graduated in 2010, on the Kentlake courts during their time as Falcons. He is currently dominating league play in the SPSL North as he warms up for another run at state in May.
Welch, who is left handed, began his tennis career young, becoming more committed as he realized his natural aptitude. Playing with his brothers and practicing with their varsity teammates before entering high school himself, he was pleasantly surprised to be chosen as an alternate for state as a freshman. As a sophomore, he was frustrated with a tough draw that ended his post season in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. This year he intends to place.
Alex Chan, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School, beat Welch in the state tournament last year on his way to a fifth place finish. He will be back to challenge Welch in league play and maybe again at state. Otherwise, three of the four top finishers at state last year graduated, and the fourth, champion Mitch Stewart, is no longer playing high school tennis.
Bolstered by these prospects, Kentlake’s head tennis coach Barry Fredericks is confident that Welch has the ability to do well come spring. Both Fredericks and Welch’s father, Rob Welch, who played tennis at Utah State University, think Welch’s serve is one of his greatest strengths. Being left-handed gives him another advantage.
A consistent player, Welch knows he has good ground strokes, but he has been working on his attack.
“I’ve got to come to the net more and put pressure on the guy.” Welch said.
Fredericks commented that Welch also lacks a real weapon, the shot that wins points. While this may not be as apparent in league play, where Welch has only lost one match the last two seasons, the competition will intensify at the state level.
Facing the possibility of knee surgery in November, Welch is trying to make it through the season without further injury. Welch described the dead bone on his knee cap that forces him to play through pain and with the knowledge that his next pivot could tear his ACL. Showing what Fredericks sees as a new level of maturity, Welch is taking his injury as an opportunity to more often use practice as a time to help his teammates.
Kentlake has a young team this year with only two seniors. Six of the 16 boys that make up the varsity and JV have never played tennis before. Welch sees himself as another coach, working with his teammates on technique and strategy. Practicing with someone of Welch’s caliber is also beneficial to the other players.
“They don’t see anybody who hits the ball hard, except for Derek. It helps them.” Fredericks said.
To prepare for state, Welch trains with Kent-Meridian High School’s head coach, Steve Walters. Welch works with Walters three to four times a week once his high school basketball season concludes in early February.
Though neither of his brothers played college tennis, Welch would like to keep playing.
“One of my buddies goes to Gonzaga and plays there, and I play with him quite a bit,” Welch said. “So, if I could play at Gonzaga, that’s my dream. Whether I play there or not, I think I have a good shot at playing at another Division II or smaller Division I.”