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Boys Tennis: Wingers learn from import

New Red Wing head coach Matt Kavanagh and senior captain Luke Bryant discuss the starting lineup for Monday's season-opening match against Winona. Photo by Chris Harrell1 / 2
Red Wing junior captain Isaac Toivonen prepares to hit a forehand during a match last season at Twin Bluff Middle School in Red Wing.2 / 2

When Matt Kavanagh left Minnesota for his native Australia nearly two months ago, he was told when he returned the snow would be gone and the weather would be ready for tennis.

With just two outside practice so far, Kavanagh hopes this winter isn't the norm because the new Red Wing head coach isn't adapted to the cold.

"I get asked the question all the time, 'What is an Australian doing in Red Wing?' because it's not really where most people find themselves if they're international," he said. "I just got back from Australia, I was back there for a couple months, and I was told by many people that it would be warm and sunny and the courts would be ready and we'd be (outside), and I got back two or three weeks ago and it was freezing."

Kavanagh begins his first season as the Wingers' head coach as Red Wing welcomes back six of their 10 varsity spots to a team that won its second consecutive Missota Conference championship and reached the Section 1AA finals in Owatonna. The Wingers went 14-4 overall and 7-0 in the conference with all four losses coming at the hands of teams ranked third or better in state.

Red Wing junior Isaac Toivonen returns at No. 1 singles while senior Luke Bryant and junior Nick Powers reprise their top doubles paring. Toivonen and Bryant are the team captains.

With their No. 1 singles and doubles back, expectations remain high.

"Hopefully we can make the section final four for sure, maybe even get to the section championship and maybe have a shot at state this year," Toivonen said. "That would be a good goal for our team."

The Wingers will have to make up for the loss of No. 2-singles player George Gabrielson, who finished third at the Section 1AA individual tournament. Toivonen placed fourth at the section tournament as he faced Gabrielson in their final match.

With the poor weather delaying outdoor practices, Kavanagh is working on the players' ability to develop a proper game plan. The top players already have most of the skills down but the two elements work in tandem, he said.

"Without good technique you can't execute a good tactic," Kavanagh said. "Even if you have good technique and you have no tactic, you're not going to be very effective on the court."

Alex Holm and Noah Christenson are back to provide depth at the singles position for Red Wing. Travis Toivonen, Marcus Veith and Josh Lyons are also expected to get significant varsity time this season.

"The guys that had stayed in their spots will have to step it up and show these new guys coming in that not all the pressure is on them but we're not expecting to lose all the time," Bryant said, "make them more comfortable and help them fit into their roles."

The Wingers plan to continue their string of success in the conference but Kavanagh is making a point to focus on the process and not victories.

"We're trying to breed an attitude that success has got more to do than just winning or losing," Kavanagh said. "It's more about competing out there and giving it your best, if your best is good enough to win, that's fantastic, if it's not, that's ok."

Former Red Wing head boys and girls tennis coach Randy Decker had a similar philosophy and Kavanagh was an assistant with Decker for the girls tennis team in the fall. The players' familiarity with Kavanagh and his temperament provided a more seamless transition.

"It comes down to trusting me as a new coach because they knew (Decker) for so long," Kavanagh said. "I'm just trying to build a bit of a rapport with them as quickly as I can."

"He knows what he's doing, we all see that," Bryant added of Kavanagh.

In an effort to combat the snow issues, players and coaches started shoveling two weeks ago and got the courts ready before most other outdoor fields could handle the upcoming season. As a result, the Wingers have playable courts before anyone else in the area.

Red Wing's first meet of the season will take place Monday at home against Winona.

Chris Harrell
Chris Harrell is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Daily Caller in Washington, D.C. For updates on local sports, follow Chris on Twitter at @RECHarrell.
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