Season Preview: Wingers tennis prepares for difficult section competitionEven though Rochester Century graduated two of its top players, including Class 2A state runner-up Eric Frueh, the Red Wing boys tennis team knows it’s not going to be easy come section time.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
Even though Rochester Century graduated two of its top players, including Class 2A state runner-up Eric Frueh, the Red Wing boys tennis team knows it’s not going to be easy come section time.
“Last year, we had a tough section,” senior captain George Gabrielson said. “I really think we’re going to make it to the final four this year … but it’s still going to be a tough section.”
The defending Missota Conference champion Wingers put together a grueling non-conference schedule, filled with tennis powers like Rochester Mayo and Eagan, to prepare themselves for the difficult task of making it to the final in the section, Red Wing head coach Randy Decker said.
“It’s just more fun,” he said. “It’s not fun playing teams that aren’t very good. We want them to have some really good competition.”
Decker said the graduation of multiple key players in the section eases the stress on the Wingers. The psychological strain of knowing a player like Frueh is waiting is gone for the first time in years.
“The pressure is on other teams,” Decker said. “It’s realistic, although difficult, to make section finals.”
And while Decker is relieved to see the section talent pool thin a little this season, the Missota Conference will be tougher, he said.
“I think we’re co-favorites,” Decker said. “But the Missota is going to be good this year. Shakopee got a stud seventh-grader and Northfield is still going to be very good.”
Red Wing’s strength is its singles’ team, completely intact from a season ago. Gabrielson made the final four of the individual section tournament and sophomore Isaac Toivonen is one of the best No. 2 singles players in the state, Decker said.
“We have one of the toughest singles teams in the state,” Decker said. “We have a really solid team.”
Sophomores Noah Christenson and Alex Holm round out the Wingers’ singles rotation.
Red Wing’s No. 1 doubles pair of Dylan Gorman and Isaac Wyland was dominant last year, but Decker said his biggest task will be finding the right partners to replace them and fill out the other the doubles teams. Plenty of players are capable, but Decker’s job will be to find the ones that mesh the best together on the court. Senior Steffen Bettich, senior Elliot Dietz, junior Luke Bryant, sophomore Marcus Veith and sophomore Nick Powers are all candidates.
“There’s a real art to picking rather than, ‘Oh you’re the next best two players,’” he said.
Last season the Wingers had an almost guaranteed three points with the top two singles and No. 1 doubles team, Decker said. Red Wing is deeper now as the ninth-graders who saw significant varsity time last year are a year older but winning might not come quite as easily.
“It might be a little more stressful,” Decker said.
Despite the team’s lofty goals, Decker said he is not fixating on victories. It will be nice if Red Wing can make the Section 1AA finale and put its top two singles players into the individual finals but the season-long experience can’t be overlooked, he said.
“The journey is important as well as the destination,” he said.
For the Wingers, the journey begins Tuesday on the road against Winona.
Gabrielson and Toivonen look to improve net game
In addition to the team goals, Gabrielson and Toivonen are aiming to make the section finals. Gabrielson was there last season and Decker said Toivonen has a shot to join Gabrielson with some improvements this year.
Toivonen and Gabrielson both said they are working to incorporate more serve and volley opportunities.
“I want to get to the net more,” Toivonen said. “Serve and volley would definitely improve my game.”
Toivonen’s length poses problems for opponents and being able to get to the net creates difficult passing shots. It could also shorten matches by forcing mistakes early in a point, Gabrielson said.
“Just your presence at the net can draw an error,” he said.
Both players are adept at hitting powerful shots from the baseline and have big serves but adding another wrinkle to their games could push them over the edge, Decker said.
“You see a lot of guys in high school that like to sit at the baseline and bang,” Decker said. “We want them to be comfortable coming to the net and finishing points early.”