By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
Only two teams this spring have been able to solve the St. Michael-Albertville boys’ tennis squad.
A 10-3 overall record was good for a likely top-three seed at next week’s Section 8AA Tournament in St. Cloud. The Knights (7-2) finished second to undefeated Buffalo (9-0) in the Mississippi 8 conference standings. Both of STMA’s conference losses came in a pair of 5-2 defeats to the Bison.
The non-conference schedule concluded for the Knights on Monday with a hard fought 4-3 home loss against Mound Westonka.
STMA earned wins at No. 4 singles and No. 1 and No. 2 doubles. With matchups playing a pivotal role against tougher competition, STMA head coach Jim Riles was forced to mix up his lineup against the Red Hawks.
Senior Denver Robak who came into the match with an 8-3 mark at No. 1 singles was paired with junior Zach House at No. 1 doubles and the tandem won in straight sets 6-3, 6-0. Stepping into Robak’s top position was eighth grader Jimmy Li who had a tough draw against Class A’s No. 3-ranked singles player Luke Moorhead. Moorhead won 6-0, 6-0, dropping Li’s singles record to 7-3.
Senior captain Thor Holstad lost only his second match all season with a 6-1, 6-0 defeat. Holstad’s singles record is 10-2 overall and the six-year varsity tennis player said he enjoyed his season as a singles player, but is excited to make a run at state playing in a position he is very familiar with.
“I’ll be playing one doubles with Denver at sections and I’m really looking forward to that,” Holstad said. “It was nice playing singles, because I like moving around and mixing things up on the court.”
Despite his first full season playing exclusively at singles, Holstad said he isn’t concerned about transitioning back to his old doubles slot.
“I can adjust pretty easily,” he said. “Coach can put me wherever he wants and I can do what I can. We have a good shot at going to state this year and as a senior, I’m going to go all out. I’ve been working my whole life for this and I really want to go to state.”
The only other loss Holstad suffered came May 6 in a 6-0, 6-0 No. 2 singles loss to Andover’s Erik Jones. The Knights did squeeze out a 4-3 win over Jones and the Huskies.
STMA went on to shutout Big Lake 7-0 on May 7. It was the fourth time in nine wins they skunked an opponent. The victory set up an all important rematch on May 9 with first-place Buffalo.
The Bison got the best of the Knights the first time around, but a Knights win would guarantee a possible share of the conference title. Holstad and sophomore Taylor Rothstein took No. 3 and 4 singles, respectively. But the Bison clinched the conference by winning the other five possible match points.
“Buffalo had five really strong seniors back this year and I thought we could split with them, but they were too tough at the top of the lineup,” said STMA head coach Jim Riles. “I felt at the beginning of the year that we would be one of the top two teams contending.”
The Knights continued conference play with a 6-1 win on May 10 against Big Lake. STMA will close out their schedule with a makeup match this Thursday at Rogers.
Section 8AA play for teams begins May 20 at Sartell with the finals on May 28 at St. Cloud Apollo. Individual sections will be May 22 at St. Cloud Apollo with the finals on May 29. The Knights are looking at a likely No. 3 seed at the section tournament. Becker and Buffalo will likely be the top two seeds. Monticello likely will be the four seed and Big Lake the five.
“It’s been a successful season and we’re excited for sections and see what we can do against Buffalo for our third time,” Riles said. “I think we could maybe get a doubles team past the sub-section and into individual section play. I think Denver and Thor will play one doubles and House and (senior) Zach Schopf will be the second doubles.”