DALLAS — Taking part in popular activities is one way to help people assimilate to a new culture.
Taking part in the most popular sport in town – even if it’s something as difficult as wrestling – worked great for Thomas Gniadecki.
Yes, Gniadecki is a standout tennis player and the rumors floated around that when he came to Dallas High School on a foreign exchange program from Denmark that he would be one of the best tennis players in the Mid-Willamette Conference, if not the state.
But he wanted to try something new so he picked the sport Dallas is best known for in wrestling.
“That’s surprising,” Dallas tennis coach Caleb Gillette said. “I think it’s cool he tried something new. Obviously they’re a lot different, but wrestling’s a tough sport. To get through that, that’s big. I think that’s great, though.”
Gniadecki plays club tennis year-round in Denmark – there are no high school teams there – and at the majority of his matches the only people watching are a few parents.
To compete in a wrestling meet for Dallas with a huge crowd was a bit intimidating.
“It’s been both good and bad because you get more support, but it kind of makes you more nervous because like watching you and it gives you pressure,” said Gniadecki, who also played soccer for Dallas in the fall.
Of course tennis is where Gniadecki – a name you probably can’t pronounce – is expected to make his biggest impact.
In the Mid-Willamette Conference there are some standout players with whom he will have to contend.
Corvallis senior Sam Larson was last year’s Mid-Willamette district runner-up and Crescent Valley sophomore Nathan Liu was a district doubles champion and is one of the top players in the conference.
Gillette said that though Gniadecki has the skills in tennis to compete with them, he needs more match experience to better control his nerves.
“I think on our team he’s our best player, and he’s a very good player,” Dallas senior Joe Gillette said. “I think so far against everybody in the league I think he does stack up very well as far as I know and I think he’ll do well.”
Gniadecki said that he thought he would miss Denmark more than he has, but he’s enjoyed the food in America greatly, especially The Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Robin.
But in between sampling the food in his remaining time in the country, he’s going to play some exceptional tennis.
“It’s been a really great year and it’s gone by really fast,” Gnaidnecki said. “I’m going home in July and I’ve been here six, seven, eight months so I’m going to have to enjoy the rest of my time here.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6701 or Twitter.com/bpoehler
Greater Valley: The district championship has belonged to Sprague the past 11 years, but this season could be interesting. Sprague returns district singles champion Logan Blair, but the transfer of ranked junior Alex Fedor to South Salem will make for an interesting challenge in the singles rank. And yes, the Olympians also return state qualifiers in Nate Harder and Jonah Lovell and are deep, but a West Albany team that placed second in the conference last year and McMinnville should challenge for the top spot in the team race.
Mid-Willamette: Corvallis and Crescent Valley are always among the best in the conference and the state, but Dallas has a deep team including Joe Gillette, Josh Dudley, Caedmon Blair and Ryan Bibler and should contend for a top three spot in the league.
4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 1: The district is unarguably one of the toughest in the state with the top four teams at the state tournament a year ago in Oregon Episcopal, Catlin Gabel, Valley Catholic and Delphian. Blanchet looks to make noise with players including Sean Harland, Crostobal-Ramos Torres and William Atwood.
4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 2: North Marion returns Ethan Berkey, who placed fourth in the state a year ago. Cascade returns three of its four state qualifying doubles players from a year ago.
Greater Valley: West Albany is the heavy favorite to repeat as the district champion with district singles champion Alex Sorte returning, and Forest Grove and McMinnville also should be competitive again. South Salem has more depth this year and its top two players, Jillian Studer and Jessa Miller, will contend for state tournament berths again. McNary sophomore Hannah Childress, a district doubles champion who placed fourth in state in doubles as a freshman, will be a contender in the singles ranks.
Mid-Willamette: Corvallis returns district singles champion Tessa Kern and is favored to win the conference again. Silverton will challenge for a top three spot with a deep group of upperclassmen including No. 1 doubles team Ally Schmidt and Emma Anderson, a state qualifying team last year.
4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 1: Catlin Gable returns state champion Lara Rakoocevic and will be a contender to win the state team championship again. Blanchet returns state qualifying senior Kendra Campbell.
4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 2: Crook County, which placed fourth in the state last year, has the talent to challenge for the top spot in the league this season, but Cascade also has the talent to be towards the top in the conference.