Half of the Del Norte boys tennis team is returning from last year, but with three of the four top players from the 2018 squad now graduated and a brand new head coach the Warriors will have a bit of a new look in 2019.

Rivers Drown has taken over as the head coach of Del Norte, pickup up for Jim Holt who spent four years at the helm of the Warriors boys tennis team.

Drown is a life-long tennis player who has played recreationally with friends and family since childhood.

“I’ve played my whole life. I started playing tennis as a young kid just playing with my mom as a past time,” Drown said. “I have kept playing over the years, and now living close to the high school it was a hobby that was easy, free and just something that my wife, friends and I have done.”

More recently Drown has helped to pass his love of the sport on to his children. His daughter Bailee Drown played four years for the Del Norte girls tennis team, climbing up to the No. 1 spot as a senior in 2017. Rivers Drown’s son Evan Drown has also taken to the sport, and is planning on joining the high school team as a freshman next year.

“Tennis is just one of those things that has just stuck with our family and we have had a great time playing the sport,” Drown said. “It is a good for sportsmanship, it produces professionalism, encourages teamwork and that sort of thing.”

Drown said his first goal is to foster a similar sort of family feel within the eight Warriors on the team this year.

“I think they are gelling really well,” Drown said. “Even the newcomers and the freshmen have been taken in — and that is kind of my team philosophy. I have a couple of rules. Number one is to have fun, and number two is that we encourage each other, and we build each other up as a team.”

Through the first few weeks of practice, Drown said that the team has exceeded expectations in that regard.

“This is a great group of boys. I am really happy with them,” he said. “They have great attitudes, and I have had no issues with them so far, knock on wood. They really do work well together. They have fun, they laugh and they goof off, but when it is time to get serious they get serious.”

Del Norte has four players returning from last year’s squad in juniors Xavier Young, Conner Long, and Seth Lee and sophomore Ritik Khilnani. The Warriors have also added a foreign exchange student in Jaroslav Grueny, of Germany, sophomore Brett Floyd and two freshmen — Zac Lor, Tyler Stanley.

“I’m excited to have eight boys. I was actually told by (Holt) that I might only have three,” Drown said. “We had a couple really talented seniors from last year that graduated and left the team. So he was thinking that we might only have three boys and we may really have to recruit. But the first day of practice we had six kids show up, and they told me more kids were coming but couldn’t make it the first day. Obviously you have to have at least six kids to be competitive, otherwise you are forfeiting matches, so I couldn’t be more pleased to have eight.”

The Warriors are also still a young team, with no seniors on the squad this year, which will hopefully allow them to grow together over the next couple seasons.

“The nice thing about this team is that there is some serious talent, and I don’t lose anyone at the end of the year,” Drown said. “That is very important for me. We have three juniors, so they will all be back next year. So we will only add to the team because we already have some prospects planning on joining the team that are in eighth grade.”

As a first year coach, and with four of the eight players on the roster new to the team, Drown said he has been focusing on trying to get to know his players throughout the preseason.

“What we have been doing so far is just working on the fundamentals,” he said. “I have had to learn the boys — learn what their skills are. I just want to find out their strengths, and also find out their weaknesses, then work with them individually on their weaknesses.

“I’m still working on ranking them. I do have kind of an idea in my head how I want to rank them, but I haven’t let them know anything yet. I think they are trying to weasel some information out of me, but I would like to see a few more matches between a couple of them before I finalize my decision. Obviously we have to know by Saturday.”

According to the original schedule, the Humboldt-Del Norte tennis season was supposed to kick off back on Feb. 16 with a trip to Ferndale, but each of the Warriors first two matches have been rained out. Rain has also made finding practice time outside difficult this spring, but Del Norte has been able to take advantage of the indoor tennis court at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds to get in at least four practices every week.

“We are actually very fortunate. I have talked to some other coaches from McKinleyville, Fortuna and St. Bernard’s and they are really not able to practice even,” Drown said. “We are fortunate to have this indoor court, which is huge because if it is raining outside we are in here. Yeah, it is only one court. So I have had to get creative on how to keep everyone moving, but I will take it compared to no practice at all. The coaches down south are telling me that they have about one practice under their belts.”

Drown said he has also been fortunate to receive a little bit of help from various local tennis players, as he gets used to the responsibilities of being a head coach.

“Jane Rumiano is just the best,” Drown said. “She has been involved in the tennis program around here for so many years. She has come along side me and helped out with some practices and I know there are a few other individuals in the community that are planning to come out and help too that are very talented. I’m looking forward to any help I can get from other players.”

Although each of Del Norte’s first two meets this spring have been postponed due to weather the Warriors are hopeful that Saturday’s meet in Fortuna, scheduled for 10 a.m., will finally allow the season to get underway.

“I would love to see us come away with a win, but more importantly I want them to have fun,” Drown said of his goals for the first meet of the season. “Then I’m also interested to see how these guys actually react in a match against a real opponent.

“I team them up with each other to kind of produce that, but there is nothing like actually going up against an opponent. I want to see how well they have adapted to what I’ve been trying to teach them — are they rushing the net, are they reaching out of their comfort zone, and are they able to identify their opponent’s weaknesses and capitalize on it?”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .