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Boys Tennis: Toivonen prepared for state's finest

Red Wing’s Isaac Toivonen will open the Class 2A state boys tennis singles tournament at 8 a.m. Thursday against Mankato East’s Dominic Canella. This is the second straight year Toivonen has reached state as an individual. (R-E file photo)

Red Wing’s Isaac Toivonen has taken an academic approach to his state preparations.

The Wingers senior is headed back to the Class 2A state singles tennis tournament and, after getting to the University of Minnesota for state last year, his mindset going into the first round is much like the mindset going into a standardized test.

“I’ve been to the Baseline Center now and that helps. I know they always say for MCA testing to get a feel for the room before you take the test, make sure you have the same pencil, stuff like that,” Toivonen said. “Going there once, you just get more of a feel of everything and you’re going to be more optimistic going in.”

That kind of preparation is a contrast to last year where Toivonen and then-first year head coach Matt Kavanagh walked into the Baseline Tennis Center as rookies. Now, Toivonen is familiar with the field – saying that he knows 75 or 80 percent of this year’s players – and is confident with his abilities after winning the Section 1AA singles title last Tuesday.

“I’m pretty optimistic, like Isaac. I think he’s got a good draw as well,” Kavanagh said. “He’s definitely got the capacity to win at least two matches; I know he said maybe two matches, but I think two matches at least.”

In his opening-round match, set for 8 a.m. Thursday, Toivonen will face Mankato East sophomore Dominic Canella. In qualifying for state, Canella won a true second-place match with teammate Mason Bultje, who was the Big Nine Conference’s singles champion.

In getting some advanced scouting on Canella, Toivonen went to his family for some guidance.

“That’s my cousin’s section, so I got some input from him,” Toivonen said, referring to Willmar’s Tate Horland. “A couple other guys (from Section 2AA) said a few things to me on how to beat him and some of his strengths and weaknesses. But I’ll be figuring out stuff before the match as well.”

Along with knowing the atmosphere, Toivonen feels more prepared thanks to tougher competition during the regular season and sections.

“I’ve played a lot of good kids this year, and a lot of those younger kids, like (Lakeville North’s) Sean Kelly and (Lakeville South’s) Chase Roseth, they’re good hitters. This year, our strength of schedule was much better, so that helped.”

On Toivonen’s side of the bracket, there could be a second-round match with the sixth-ranked player in the state (Hopkins’ Manfred Barrios) and a semifinals match against either the No. 1 (Forest Lake’s Toby Boyer) or the No. 8 player (Zach Ekstein of Eagan). Ekstein defeated Toivonen in the opening round of the state tournament last year.

Toivonen is staying as open-minded about the tournament as he can be.

“I don’t know where I’ll fit in. I’ll be as much as an optimist as possible,” Toivonen said. “I’m not going to take anything for granted in my last two, three, four tennis matches of my high-school career.”

Meanwhile, Kavanagh sees Toivonen as a wild card in the bracket.

“He’s not seeded there, and yet he’s capable of beating anyone there on a good day,” Kavanagh said. “I think it’s important that he keeps his intensity up while remaining calm at the same time, which is a tricky balance sometimes.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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