April 30, 2009 at 8:57 a.m.
Enthralling first victory of the season does wonders for Chisago Lakes
With the youthful energy that the Chisago Lakes boys tennis team has, it was only a matter of time before the squad earned their first victory on the season.
They nabbed it from the Princeton Tigers in a thrilling 4-3 come-from-behind victory.
The Wildcats struggled mightily in the beginning of the day. "It seemed every match I looked at, we got down early in," Head Coach Corey McKinnon said.
The catalyst for the comeback was elder statesmen on the team Cam Bouwens, who is only a junior. In the first set, Bouwens was struggling with his opponents placement and speed. Losing 5-1, Bouwens played a masterful defensive game and started to chip away. He rattled off five straight points to take the lead at 6-5.
His Tiger counterpart won the next point to knot it up at six each, but Bouwens strategy was effective in the tiebreak, as he won 7-5. "That was Cam Bouwens 101," McKinnon said. "He just plays defensively and frustrates opponents."
Nate Bloom, a sophomore who was asked to take over at third singles this year, performed his own version of the comeback. He won the first set 6-3, and looked like he might be able to sweep the set, but his Tiger opponent held strong in the second set and won it 7-5.
Bloom's momentum seemed to be stopped by that second set loss, and he faltered to a 5-2 deficit in the third set. But, all of a sudden, the switch went on for the youngster and he started making plays all over the court. He scored five straight points to win the third set 7-5 and the match 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
Jared Rectenwal and Vinnie Gorski both dropped their singles matches despite solid play all around from both of them.
With the singles matches split at two, the team match was going to come down to the doubles teams. The first and third doubles teams were decided quickly. Wildcats' Alex Swanson and Mike Swanson (no relation) rolled to a 6-3, 6-2 win in third doubles. "I put those two together against Totino-Grace at second doubles, and despite losing, they played well," McKinnon explained. "With a reshuffled lineup, they landed at third doubles and played very well in the win."
Princeton's first doubles team didn't have much trouble in earning a win, downing Brian Erickson and Brian Heinz 2-6, 1-6.
The match all came down to the second doubles tandem of Tommy Johnson and Jake Sells. After losing the first set 3-6, the pair fought back to even the match up with a 6-2 victory in the second set. "Both of the guys just got on a roll, and started protecting the net like they are supposed to do," McKinnon said.
In the third and final set, they were the only guys left playing, and it was a tough match. Johnson and Sells went up 3-2, then found themselves down 4-3, but clawed back with two straight points to take a 5-4 lead. At 5-4, after the point had gone to deuce, Johnson and Sells had four add-in's to seal the match and the win for the Wildcats, but each time, the Tigers staved the loss off. Princeton finally got an add-in, and on their first shot, won the point to tie it up at 5-5.
The Wildcat duo rolled in the next point to go up 6-5, but they needed to win by two at that point. The two looked like they would easily close it out when they went up 40-love in the point, but again, Princeton showed their resiliency. The server knocked down two aces, and then pulled it to deuce before scoring the winner for the point. "We were all just looking around at each other saying 'This is crazy!'," McKinnon said. "The match just wouldn't end"
With the game knotted at six, Johnson and Sells finally had enough of the Tiger pair and blew them away with a 7-3 win in tiebreak. According to McKinnon, the two guys just hit a whole new gear in the tiebreak to blast the competition.
McKinnon didn't want to put any extra added pressure on his young and inexperienced tandem, so he hadn't told them that their match would win it for the team. "When they got off the court, I said 'Guess what guys? You just won the match 4-3 for us,' and their eyes just lit up on their face," he said.
The victory was the first of the year for the Wildcats, but it wasn't their only one on the week.
Pine City 6, Chisago Lakes 1
Against traditional power Pine City, the Wildcats didn't have much of a chance. There was some improvement on the day, but most of it was chasing the supremely talented Dragons around the court. Bouwens won his second match of the week at second singles, earned a hard-earned three-set victory.
At first doubles, Erickson and Eichten had an epiphany in the middle of their match. After losing the first set 6-0 and going down 5-1 in the second set, they took a stand. "It just seemed like they got frustrated in the right way," McKinnon explained. "They didn't want to stop playing just yet."
The pair won the next three points to make Pine City sweat a little bit, but they were finished off 6-4 in the second set. Little things like that are what McKinnon is looking for from his young charges this year.
Chisago Lakes 5, St. Francis 2
McKinnon was expecting a tough, veteran St. Francis team. He got a tough, veteran-like team, but it wasn't St. Francis', it was the Wildcats that looked like the more seasoned bunch.
Bouwens earned the first victory for the Wildcats, winning his third match in as many tries. Eighth grader Gorski won his first ever varsity match at fourth singles, sending the 'Cats into doubles with the team match standing at a 2-2 stalemate.
The doubles teams really stepped it up against the Saints, however, and that's where the Wildcats earned the North Suburban Conference win.
All three tandems swept their matches, with first and second doubles trampling their opposition. Erickson and Heinz buzzed through first doubles, winning 6-3, 6-1.
Johnson and Sells proved they do more than just dramatic wins, sweeping the Saints second doubles team by a score of 6-1, 6-1.
The two Swanson's were the only one with any trouble at doubles, and it wasn't too much trouble. The first set went to the extra point, but they won 7-5. The win deflated the St. Francis team for the second set, and the 'Cats tandem rolled 6-3 in the second set.
"It's so cool to see these guys improve right in front of us," McKinnon said. "Most of them are so athletic, but new to tennis, so they are getting better by the day."
They'll have to get better as the conference schedule heats up. They already took on Champlin Park and North Branch earlier this week, and they'll take on perennial power Irondale tonight, and then Columbia Heights on Friday afternoon.
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