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Boys Tennis: Toivonen seals trip to state

Red Wing junior Isaac Toivonen reaches back to hit a forehand during the first set of Tuesday's Section 1AA finale at the Rochester Athletic Club. Toivonen lost 6-4, 7-6 (2) to Rochester John Marshall's Jason Howard. Photo by Chris Harrell

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Isaac Toivonen tore through the Missota Conference at No. 1 singles this season.

He was rarely tested but played solid tennis and made sure to treat each match with equal intensity.

In the Section 1AA finals on Tuesday, Toivonen took on an opponent unlike any other he faced this season in Rochester John Marshall's Jason Howard.

Toivonen kept pace and led for the half of the match before succumbing to Howard's steadiness in a 6-4, 7-6 (2) defeat at the Rochester Athletic Club.

"I think matches like today are very good ones where (Toivonen) was highly competitive, still played high-intensity dynamic tennis, but he just came up short," Red Wing head coach Matt Kavanagh said. "He just is not conditioned to playing someone that consistent."

Howard, a freshman, blasted forehands and frequently neutralized Toivonen's kick serve in coming back from a one-game deficit in the first set and taking control in the second set.

"He can rip his forehands wherever he wants," Toivonen said. "If I hit it to his forehand once or twice, it was going to be point over pretty quick. I had to hit it to his backhand but I struggled doing that. I struggled getting his serve back; he's just a really good player."

Howard also kept Toivonen behind the baseline with deep top-spin shots, never allowing Toivonen to take control at the net.

"That's part of what makes Jason's ground strokes so effective," Rockets' head coach Kyle Anderson said. "He's able to control his ground strokes with good spin and good depth."

When the Red Wing junior got to the net, he was successful and Toivonen tallied several forehand winners.

"He didn't hit any short balls," Toivonen said. "I only go in on short balls and he did a good job adjusting to that. You're not going to go in on a bad ball or it'll be an easy pass for him."

In the first set, Toivonen and Howard traded games, holding serve until Toivonen led 4-3. Then, Howard picked up his first break of the day, using the momentum to win three straight games and the set.

Toivonen recovered to win the first game of the second set but became visibly and verbally frustrated by Howard's barrage of baseline strokes.

"When he comes across a player who is good enough to be able to neutralize his serve, he needs to be able to find another gear in his game," Kavanagh said. "At the moment, he seems to lack that strategy because he's so used to winning the point after one, two or three shots maximum, where today he was required to have to hit six to 10 balls to win a point which is good for him because it shows him that he has to develop and evolve as a player."

Howard took a 4-2 lead in the second set before Toivonen found some momentum to win the next three games, needing to break Howard one more time to send it to a third set. Again, Howard had the answer, holding serve the rest of the match and taking control of the second set tiebreaker, winning 7-2.

"He's very match tough," Anderson said of Howard. "He's competing a lot better now and dealing with adversity in a more healthy way. It could have gone either way. Jason got him today."

In his first match of the day, Toivonen defeated Northfield's Evan Johnson 6-0, 6-1 in the Section 1AA semifinals. Toivonen also won 6-0, 6-3 against Johnson on May 13.

"I knew what I was going to do before the match because I had played him," Toivonen said. "You have some confidence, but not really because in sections anything can happen. I wasn't going to take anything for granted or go into the match feeling overconfident."

When Johnson defeated Lakeville South's Chase Roseth in his second match on Tuesday, Toivonen sealed a trip to the Class 2A boys state tennis tournament. He is the first Winger boy to make the state tournament in singles competition since Stefan Voigt in 2007.

"I'm really happy," Toivonen said. "It's kind of cool having my name put next to (Voigt's). He's really good and I have a lot of respect for him."

The state individual tournament begins June 6 at the Baseline Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

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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