The East Ridge Raptors boys' tennis team had about as good of a season last year as any team could. They cruised through the section playoffs before making a run to the state finals.
"We ended up making it to the finals and losing 4-3 to Minnetonka, so it doesn't get much closer than that," head coach Suzie Heideman said. "We lost in three sets in the deciding match. We definitely had our chance and it was just a really exciting season with a lot of seniors who had worked really hard to get to where they were."
Heading into this current season, the Raptors lost some of their high-end talent but also return several key contributors. Heideman said that the goals for the season, outside of playing their best tennis, is to create a bond between this team that is similar to last year's.
""The boys who are back knew all that we were losing, obviously they're going to miss their tennis talents and leadership, but they will miss them personally too because they were a really close-knit group of friends," Heideman said.
East Ridge loses individual state champion, Ben van der Sman, as well as four other significant contributors to that state team. Heideman said that leaves eight returners from last year, but only four of them had significant varsity experience. The captains this year are seniors Subbaro Garlapati and Elias Ramirez.
The varsity roster is the two captains, Filip Belik, Kevin Chen, Jeffrey Deng, Eric Duliere, Caleb Fridinger, Luke Fridinger, Sujay Garlapati, Subbaro Garlapati, Elias Ramirez, Adam Ryers, Fillippo Ugolotti and Eli van der Sman.
Heideman said that the Fridingers (Caleb and Luke) are two of three brothers who play and their family was named a national tennis family of the year and received the Ralph W. Westcott USTA Family of the Year award. The team also attracts other brothers, last year with the van der Smans and this year the Fridingers and Garlapatis.
So far through the first few practices, Heideman said she is happy with her team's progression.
"I would say, overall after one week, I am super impressed with how hard these guys worked in the offseason," she said. "A lot of them have grown physically, which helps their game and I'm excited to see, really, (which) of these guys can step into the lineup, so it will be tough decisions to see who plays where."
The Raptors will host the SoWashCo Invite along with Woodbury and Park on April 7, but that is threatened by the weather. Later on in the season they will travel to Eau Claire, Wis., and play in a tournament hosted by Eau Claire Memorial that will feature a large and competitive field split between Minnesota and Wisconsin teams.
"I'm really excited for new memories to be formed and just to see how this year plays out," Heideman said. "We have a really good group of hard-working boys who are focused and driven."