With winter weather appearing to be in the rearview mirror, spring sports are entering the fold with a reminder of the warmer months ahead. First among the cadre of sport offerings to hold a competition is boys’ tennis as Red Wing will host Lake City on Thursday, April 8 in the season opener for both teams.
Although how the season is conducted will be different than years past, that the two teams get to compete after a lost season one year ago is enough to get both squads excited. With nearly two years since their last tennis match, Red Wing and Lake City will look significantly different when taking the court this spring.
To get you caught up, the Republican Eagle talked with Red Wing and Lake City head coaches Doug Toivonen and Dave Toole about some of the keys to this upcoming tennis season.
Returning players will be a mixed bag
With a cancelled season last spring it’s no surprise then that the Wingers and Tigers will field some inexperienced players on varsity. What that inexperience looks like for both teams though is a stark difference.
Red Wing only lost one senior — Aidan Coyle — from what would have been last year’s lineup. Although Coyle would have filled the No. 1 singles slot one year ago, the rest of the lineup returns. Working in the Wingers’ favor is that nine of their returnees have varsity experience, even if it was from two seasons ago.
“Most of our players have at least two years of varsity experience, and would have three years if we would have had a season last year,” Toivonen said. “We have about seven seniors and then not a lot of juniors and sophomores. Our singles lineup will be similar, but we have about five or six guys that are going to rotate between singles and doubles.”
What is a blessing for Red Wing, becomes a curse for Lake City as the Tigers aren’t as fortunate to be so senior heavy.
Toole said there are just three returning lettermen this year — Ryan Heise, Joe Nafe and Elijah Miller. All of which are underclassmen.
“I have a lot of first-year players. I have four seventh-graders, two eighth-graders, two ninth-graders, five sophomores and two juniors,” Toole said. “The seventh graders have never seen varsity experience so I’ve got beginners.”
Throw goals out the window and just compete
With a stark contrast in the makeup of the Red Wing and Lake City tennis teams, it would make sense for the goals to be similarly different. That’s not entirely the case though as the emphasis this spring is more on finishing the season, than rattling off wins.
For Lake City, that means looking for improvement from its young core to build towards something larger in the years to come.
“We’re very young. We’re still working on ways to get better at tennis,” Toole said. “Some of these kids have never really played tennis at all before.”
Toivonen was similar in his approach — wanting to see constant improvement first and foremost. But with a predominantly senior-led group, he said there is potential for the team to make some noise in the section.
“Because we didn't play last year, it's hard to know what the conference is going to look like,” he said. “I think that we can be more competitive than we have been. We're not going to be as strong against the Rochesters and Owatonna, but I think there's some teams in the conference that we're going to be very competitive with. And then in our section I feel like we should be pretty competitive with most of the teams in our section.”
What to keep in mind as a spectator
For those anxious to see the Wingers and Tigers in action for the first time in 22 months, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Red Wing is currently scheduled for 15 matches before the Big Nine Conference tournament on May 22. Of those, nine will be home dates. The home opener is April 8 against Lake City. The home finale is May 18 against Hastings.
Lake City is scheduled for 14 matches, half will be at Lincoln High School. The home opener is April 19 against Faribault, and the home finale is May 17 against Red Wing.
Spectators will be allowed at both Red Wing and Lincoln high schools. However, spectators will not be allowed on the courts at any point. Those in attendance must stay behind the windscreens or fencing.