With spring sports called off in Wisconsin and Minnesota, area teams are left to wonder what could have been. In some sports, individuals and teams had conference, section or even state aspirations. In others, coaches were hoping underclassmen could gain valuable experience. For Red Wing and Ellsworth boys’ tennis, it was the former and the latter.
In Ellsworth, this was set to be year 2 of “The Rumpel Effect.” Head coach Mary Rumpel figured after a few years of being positioned toward the bottom of the Middle Border Conference, the team was poised to finish higher. The team was also well positioned with a nice balance of experience and up-and-comers.
“Our seniors started as freshmen. They were put on varsity because there weren’t a lot of kids out and so they had to really take on a lot of losses at the beginning,” Rumpel said. “So this year I was thinking that we would have been right in the middle of the conference.”
Liam Moore, Connor Price and Brevin Bundy were the three returning seniors for Ellsworth. Moore, who Rumpel said made a ton of positive strides a year ago, was slated to be one of the Panthers’ top singles players. She noticed Moore turned the corner around mid-May last year and capped off a strong year with a first-round conference win against an Altoona opponent.
“The conference just kinda looked at him and said, ‘Oh my gosh, an Ellsworth kid just beat an Altoona kid at No. 2 singles,’” Rumpel said. “I think he would have really shined this year.”
Red Wing was set to return its entire team from a year ago. The bulk of the 2019 season was used for gaining experience for a young squad — a unit that earned the No. 3 seed in the section tournament but fell in the first round to Lake City.
“The kids had put in some time so we knew we were going to be better,” Red Wing head boys’ tennis coach Doug Toivonen said. “We were hoping we’d get a home playoff game and possibly get to at least a final two or final four of the section.”
Aidan Coyle, the Wingers’ only senior, was hoping that he and Nathan Baer would have a shot at the state tournament in doubles.
“This year I was hoping to place at least third at individual sections,” Coyle said. “But I think doubles, me and Nathan had a shot at state, which would have been really cool.”
More than the season was lost
Although the opportunity to take the next step as a team was lost, Rumpel and Toivonen said that was only one part of what athletes are missing out on this spring.
Without face-to-face contact, Toivonen said the Wingers have gone to virtual meetings so coaches can check in with players. Rumpel said Ellsworth is also utilizing online group hangouts.
“They’re making the most of it,” she said. “I think they’ve kind of approached it as ‘Well, at least I can hang out in calculus or chemistry.’”
On the courts, athletes are advised to play against family members but are still suggested to avoid playing against anyone else. Red Wing has a tennis ball machine at the high school and Toivonen said a few students have taken advantage of that this spring. Even with those as options for students in what has been a bizarre spring, it doesn’t compare to the in-person team bonding that takes place.
Coyle said he cherished everything from the practices to the competition of matches, but in particular, he misses the team culture.
“We haven’t done too well as a team in the past but I think it’s just been such a fun team to be on,” he said. “We’re still competitive but it’s more about having fun. … get together with friends and play some tennis.”
He said he misses the practices and bus rides as a team, as well as the dinners at Randy’s after home matches. As a two-time team captain, Coyle said he hopes to come back next spring from college and help out with practice and be around the team again.
And although the season isn’t the ending Ellsworth and Red Wing seniors were hoping for, the mindset that’s been instilled in the two programs have Toivonen and Rumpel upbeat about the future.