At the U of M Baseline Tennis Center on Monday, Maple Grove's Zachary Adkins hits a shot during the match he won in straight sets. (Richard.Sennott - Star Tribune photo)
The Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota is a fine facility, but it would be difficult to characterize it as intimate. To the Maple Grove tennis team, however, it’s beginning to feel as cozy as a family room.
The Crimson made short work of Mahtomedi in its Class 2A quarterfinal match at the boys’ tennis state tournament Tuesday, sweeping all four singles matches en route to a 5-2 victory.
It was another step in the development of the Maple Grove program, which advanced to its first state tournament in school history last year.
“We feel more like we belong this year,” said sophomore Rory Calabria, who beat Ryan Meger 6-2, 6-3 at No. 4 singles. “We’ve worked hard and believe we deserve to be here. The key is confidence. We were a little nervous last year. This year, it feels more like home.”
The Crimson lost in the first round in 2012, so by winning Tuesday, it already had reached its primary goal for this year’s tournament. Maple Grove will face No. 1-seeded Wayzata, which defeated the Crimson twice this season, in Wednesday’s semifinals.
Maple Grove coach J.C. Lippold said there reasons to be confident despite the two losses.
“They beat us 6-1 the first time we played them, and five days later, we played them again and it was only 4-3,” Lippold said. “And there were a couple of matches in that one that we could have pulled out. That, more than anything, has given these guys the confidence to believe they can do it.”
Lippold, who took over the program nine years ago and has laid the foundation for a consistent contender, is resigning at the end of the season to take a job in Boston.
“I’ll still be watching and supporting them,’’ Lippold said. “When I took over, we had 30 players. Now we have 85 and we don’t cut anybody. It’s the most supportive program we’ve ever had. Guys just love to play together and don’t want the season to end. I’ve already got my plane ticket to come back next year.”
The Trojans, while a more established program, also are treading on new turf as the No. 1-ranked team in the state. They fit that role well Tuesday, losing only one set while thumping St. Cloud Tech 7-0.
“We’ve never been ranked No. 1 at this point,” said senior captain Matt Tropsha, who won in straight sets at No. 3 singles. “We want to make sure we live up to that. [Coach Jeff] Prondzinski is coaching us like it’s his last year. And we’re playing like it.”
Meanwhile, defending Class 2A champion Elk River believes another state title might be even more of an achievement than the first one.
“This is a way different year than last year. We lost six seniors, three really good singles players,” said sophomore Sam Gearou, who won his match at No. 2 singles, leading an Elks sweep of the singles matches in a 5-2 victory over Rochester Mayo. “I know our coaches would say that nothing compares to winning the first one, but I think if we were able to do it again this year, it would be even more special.”
Elks coach Randy Ronning said, “I’m glad he’s looking at things that way. The first one is always special, but this year might be more fun. Last year we were expected to win, we had that much talent. This year, the matches themselves are more stressful but there is far less pressure.”
The Elks will play Minnetonka, which won the closest match of the first day, beating Bloomington Jefferson 4-3. The teams were tied 2-2 but the No. 3-seeded Skippers pulled out two of three third sets to advance.
Defending champion Breck looked bent on repeating, crushing Thief River Falls 7-0 in the quarterfinals at the Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis. The Mustangs lost only 13 total games in the match and won seven sets by the score of 6-0. They face Fergus Falls, a 5-2 winner over Virginia, in the first semifinal Wednesday.
In the other quarterfinals bracket, No. 1-ranked Blake got straight-set victories at Nos. 1, 2 and 3 singles and won two of three doubles matches to defeat Rochester Lourdes 5-2. The Bears will play Mound Westonka, which slipped past Luverne 4-3 on the strength of four singles victories.