Prep boys tennis: Duluth East poised to continue state tournament run
After 2020 season was canceled, Greyhounds seek to repeat as Section 7AA champions for a fifth consecutive time.
Ty Kruger didn’t have many options once COVID-19 shut down the high school boys tennis and junior-league seasons in 2020.
The Duluth East senior ended up playing a couple Greyhounds teammates and Nore Heinitz, one of Duluth’s top girls players, three times a week for the past year and a half.
“It’s been really tough,” Kruger said. “I usually play tournaments in the (Twin) Cities and tournaments here in town and all those got canceled. I ended up playing at Longview Tennis Club and at the (Duluth Indoor Sports Center) and played the same couple people for a whole year. There wasn’t a whole lot of diversity, and that hurts.”
Kruger and company are finally back out on the courts this spring.
“It’s been a long two years and I really missed it,” he said.
Deprived of a fifth consecutive Section 7AA title by last season’s cancellation, the Greyhounds hope to pick up where they left off in 2019.
So far, so good. The team edged Virginia and Thief River Falls by 4-3 scores and then swept three section foes 7-0 over the weekend.
“It’s good to know where we stand in the section,” said Kruger, who played in the previous two state tournaments. “Everybody has completely different teams than they had two years ago.”
The Greyhounds have been without several of their regulars due to spring break and COVID-19 quarantining. Winning matches despite using replacements sends a notice to section opponents.
“That gave us a boost of confidence and showed we’re one of the best teams around here,” said sophomore Dane Patten, who has been playing at No. 1 singles this spring and was on the state tournament roster as an eighth grader. “We still have a lot to prove to other teams in our section, but our results on Saturday showed we can hang with teams even when we don’t have all of our top players. When we do have our players back healthy and playing every day, we’ll be able to show other teams in our section that we’re one of the best teams.
“Then, hopefully, if we do go to a state tournament, we can show teams from the Cities that we’re here to win.”
Patten, whose father, Wells, has coached the St. Scholastica tennis teams the past 25 seasons, found offseason playing time at the DISC and at Virginia’s indoor facility. However when those indoor facilities were shut down late last year, he traveled to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to hit against buddies.
Making that effort to stay active is one of the things East coach Chad Humphreys likes about his team. He also is impressed with the team’s depth, which manifested itself in wins over Grand Rapids, Forest Lake and Blaine.
“I do like our chances,” Humphreys said of a fifth state appearance in a row. “We play a strong Mahtomedi team on Friday and then we’ll really see where we’re at when we play Elk River and Eden Prairie and a few other powerhouses.”
Along with Kruger and Patten, sophomore Ryan Delaney has varsity experience. A number of freshmen and sophomores round out a youthful squad.
Elsewhere in the Northland:
Hermantown’s top singles players are juniors Ethan Hallgren and Chase Sams — both of whom have played on the varsity since seventh grade — though the Hawks’ lineup also includes star hockey player Zam Plante.
“We have an amazingly large number of athletes out this season and hope to be tough competition this year,” said Hawks coach Jessica Worden, who doubles as Minnesota Duluth’s tennis coach.
Cloquet only has two players with varsity experience in senior Adam Blesener and freshman Ethan Doty as the Lumberjacks are in rebuilding mode.
Grand Rapids-Greenway also counts several hockey players on its squad, such as Hunter Bischoff, though the Raiders are very young and inexperienced.
Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert have combined programs (and eventually high schools) to form Rock Ridge. The senior doubles tandem of Ryan Scherf and Jace Westerbur is back together after qualifying for the state tournament in 2019. The Wolverines swept all three doubles matches in a recent match against Duluth East.
Superior seniors singles player Zach Leno and senior doubles players Caden Olson and Lars Olson head up the Spartans’ hopes.
Duluth Marshall is not fielding a team this spring due to low numbers.