March 12, 2008

All-Around Art

March 12, 2008

By Darren Shimp

Today's breed of top-notch tennis players has generally been taller and bigger than stereotypical country-club depictions of generations past. Eastern Washington University tennis player Art Karas was listed at 5-9 and 145 pounds when he first walked onto the Cheney campus more than two years ago.

He came in with a little bit of odds stacked against him, according to interim men's tennis coach Darren Haworth. Despite his lack of physical intimidation, Karas has proven his worth, as his head coach says he is the fittest, fastest and strongest person on the team, notwithstanding his stature.

"I feel pretty athletic; that helps. I just try to elevate my game every time I play," said Karas of his size disadvantage on the court. "I have to jump a little higher than the average person because I'm not as tall, but I can do it."

Amidst EWU's school-record nine-match winning streak, the Portland, Ore., resident and Westview High School graduate Karas has personal winning streaks of nine in singles matches and six in doubles contests dating to Feb. 2.

Picked to finish fifth in the Big Sky Conference preseason poll, the Eagles have exceeded the league's expectations thus far, but have yet to reach the pinnacle of their team goals.

"I think that was a little low (to be picked fifth), as we finished second last year," said Karas. "We expect to be No. 1 in the conference."

Working his way up the depth chart since arriving in Cheney, Karas has found his niche as a workmanlike player, having logged a total of 37 matches so far this season (19 in singles, 18 in doubles). That number is tied for second on the team with sophomore Nico Riego de Dios and behind junior Pannhara Mam (45).

"He came onto this team two years ago at the lower end of the lineup, and he has worked his way up through a lot of hard work," said Haworth. "I was here last year as an assistant, and I've seen him outwork a lot of his opponents since. He spent a lot of time over the summer working very hard."

When Karas is not practicing his skills on the courts or logging study hours, he may be found on the dunes of the Oregon coast, riding off-road vehicles with friends and family in Florence or Winchester Bay - and, in the last couple years, with teammate and roommate Mam.

The duo sometimes carpools home from the Inland Northwest, as Mam is originally from Salem, Ore. The two met their senior year of high school - in the round of 16 at the Oregon School Activities Association Championships.

"He got me like 3 and 2 or something," said Karas (it was actually 6-1, 6-0).

The consistency and reliability displayed on the court has also been common off the court, as Karas volunteers to remedy transportation malfunctions.

"We got a flat tire in the team van last year, and he was the first one out to help fix the situation," said Haworth. "We also ran out of gas in one of the team vans last year, and he was the first to bring gas back to get us going.

"That's the type of person he is, very reliable, a guy you can go to."

The willingness to put the team first has translated to more production in the win column as Karas and his mates gear up for the stretch run of the Big Sky schedule, having already won their first three matches.

"We're really playing well as a team. Everyone has been coming up big," said Karas. "We're winning down low, which is good (i.e. No. 5 and 6 singles). We're just stronger all the way down. Daniel Pez has been coming up really big for us - twice (he broke two 3-3 ties in the last three weeks with victories)."

With the successful surrounding cast around him and continued support from the coaching staff, the (Big) sky's the limit for the accounting major.

"If he continues to work as hard as he's has, there's really no telling what his potential could be," said Haworth.

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