By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The St. Michael-Albertville boys’ tennis team has some holes to fill, but with a record number of faces showing up this spring, head coach Jim Riles is optimistic for the upcoming season.
The Knights are looking to replace four key seniors off last year’s team that finished 5-1 in the Mississippi 8 conference and 14-9 overall. With seven returning lettermen and 43 players trying out this spring, STMA has plenty of faces competing for spots.
“We are really excited about our numbers and the younger and new players out this year,” said Riles, who is eager to try and jumpstart the middle school program that folded a few years back. “It’s tough, baseball is so big and kids are joining the track program. We are very excited about the 43 players that are trying out grades 7-12.”
The Knights look to replace last year’s top singles and one half of their top doubles positions. Junior Denver Robak looks to replace the void of last season’s top singles player Tyler Shustarich and junior Zach House will join senior Thor Holstad as the team’s top doubles tandem. House looks to replace Kevin Caron.
Besides Robak – who finished 12-10 a year ago at No. 2 singles – the Knights will likely turn to eighth grader Jimmy Li, sophomore’s Aaron Dorland, John Budde and Holstad piecing together a makeshift singles lineup. Each of these players spent time between singles and doubles a year ago.
Holstad and Zach Schopf are the lone returning seniors as well as captains for this year’s squad. Schopf spent most of last year bouncing between third and fourth doubles and finished with a combined doubles record of 11-5.
“We are expecting strong play and leadership from these two seniors,” Riles said.
With an increased number of tennis players this spring, Riles said the Knights will carry both a varsity, junior varsity as well as a C-Squad team this year.
Junior, Josh Alexander and sophomore’s Joe Hebeisen, Cody Jones, Taylor Rothstein will look to move up from junior varsity to the varsity squad. Sophomore Grant Moser is undecided if he is playing after spending the last two years playing varsity doubles.
STMA’s scheduled first matchup this Thursday at Andover is being moved to Friday, April 12. The Knights will officially kick off the season at home next Monday, April 8 against St. Cloud Apollo. The following day they host Buffalo and April 11, they hit the road at Big Lake.
“We have our courts dry, so next Monday will go on for sure,” said Riles.
Riles went on to say the Magic and Hornets should be a good test early in the season.
“Buffalo is probably the pre-season pick to win the conference,” Riles said. “They and Monticello return quite a few players. I expect Becker and St. Cloud Tech to be the top teams in the section.”
STMA lost 6-1 to Sartell in the quarterfinals last year of the Section 8AA playoffs.
“We have a great group of kids,” Riles said. “Our first goal this season is to try and win the conference championship.”