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Feeling the pressure

05/28/2013, 4:43pm CDT
By David La Vaque, Star Tribune

Members of the Maple Grove boys' tennis team find that expectations bear weight.

In the Class 2A, Section 5 boys tennis finals between Maple Grove and Mounds View at the Baseline Tennis Center at the U of M, Zach Adkins returns a ball from Jake Bartels of Mounds View. Adkins won the match.] richard


Rory Calabria admits now to not understanding the importance of winning his Section 5 finals match last spring, earning the point that secured Maple Grove’s first-ever Class 2A boys’ tennis state tournament appearance.

Maple Grove drew a section final rematch with Mounds View last week, and Calabria, well aware of the moment this time, overcame his jitters to win at No. 4 singles and once again clinch the final point in a 4-3 victory.

The Crimson advances to the team state tournament taking place June 4-5 at the Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota. The top five teams will be assigned seeds on Thursday. The remaining three teams will be chosen by blind draw. Maple Grove lost in the consolation finals last season.

“Last year I was a freshman and I probably didn’t get the magnitude of my match,” Calabria said. “I was not feeling as nervous as I was this year. I realized how important each spot is because Mounds View doesn’t give you much.”

Pressure came in several forms this season. Lingering winter weather reduced the season to a blur of matches requiring keen focus. The Crimson played in the prestigious Edina Invitational for the first time, mixing it up with a hard-court who’s who including Wayzata, host Edina and Rochester Mayo. If that wasn’t enough, coach J.C. Lippold told the Star Tribune in late April, “I think Mounds View is going to have some trouble in Section 5 the next few years”

In other words, his team’s 2012 section victory was no fluke. His players noted Lippold’s words but were not fazed.

“That is something he will do,” Calabria said. “He talks loud at matches and I said once, ‘You’re giving away our strategy.’ But he said, ‘It’s not about keeping secrets. It’s about being confident in your tennis.’ ”

The Crimson gain piece of mind with strength at the singles positions. Junior Zachary Adkins plays at No. 1 and his freshman brother, Charlie, at No. 2. Eighth-grader Sam Hochberger holds down the No. 3 spot with Calabria at No. 4. The quartet swept Mounds View to secure victory in the teams’ past two section meetings.

A year ago, Calabria’s victory trigged an on-court celebration. Last week Maple Grove won in more subdued fashion at the Baseline Tennis Center. The singles courts and doubles courts were in different parts of the building, meaning only the singles players knew Maple Grove had clinched.

“That not how it works in sports movies,” Lippold joked.

Toiling on the doubles court was senior Trevor Kleineschay, who along with partner Derrick Marvin lost a close two-set match at the No. 1 position. Finding out afterward that the team had still won the match, Kleineschay said, “got a smile out of me.”

The most telling portion of the fast-paced season, Kleineschay and Calabria agreed, came when the Crimson lost 6-1 to top-ranked Wayzata on April 25 and then closed the gap two days later in a 4-3 loss.

“That was the biggest example of our growth,” Calabria said. “We knew 6-1 wasn’t an accurate reflection of our team. Losing 4-3 was a light bulb moment where we said, ‘We can do this.’ It woke us up to the idea that we could be state champs.”

Maple Grove suffered a 4-3 loss to defending state champion Elk River on May 9 that Lippold said served as a turning point.

“We lost our swagger going into that match,” said Lippold, who fell to 0-37 lifetime against the Elks as a player and coach. “We had a heart-to-heart talk on the bus afterward and said we have nothing to be afraid of. We can’t allow ourselves to feel bad about what we are capable of doing.”

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