May 6, 2010 at 9:26 a.m.
With nearly double the competitors on the team this year -- they had 29 last year and over 50 this year -- Head Coach Corey McKinnon has been tinkering with the lineup to figure out the best way to attack opposing teams. He found it in a narrow loss to the always-stacked Totino-Grace Eagles.
Totino-Grace 4, Chisago Lakes 3
"This was the first match we decided to go doubles heavy," McKinnon explained.
German foreign exchange student David Rau had been playing some top singles for the 'Cats on the year, but McKinnon shuffled him to first doubles with junior Brett Lizotte, and he quickly realized he had an intimidating pair. Rau and Lizotte burned through the senior tandem from Totino-Grace 6-3, 6-2. "Their first doubles beat us handily last year," McKinnon said. "But, even in their first match together, these guys had a confidence and swagger about them."
At third singles, Vinnie Gorski won a very hotly contested match, 5-7, 7-5, 7-5.
In third doubles action, Tommy Johnson and Hogan Haas staged a dramatic comeback to earn the Wildcats' third point. At one set apeice, Johnson and Haas found themselves down 1-4 in the third set, two points away from losing the match. But, as McKinnon said, the pair decided to have fun playing tennis, put a smile on their faces and just started playing their own game. After a few long rallies, the CL pair had ran off six points to TG's one, and Johnson and Haas won the third set 7-5.
McKinnon was also impressed with first singles player Joe Turnquist. The eighth-grader was playing in his first match of the year, and he lost 6-4, 6-2 to the Totino-Grace junior, but McKinnon said he gave their first singles player fits.
Chisago Lakes 4, Benilde-St. Margaret's 3
McKinnon was proud of his guys after the match with perennial North Suburban power Benilde-St. Margaret's. "Benilde is a little young this year," he said. "But, they're Benilde-St. Margaret's -- they're born with a racquet in their hand. These are all club kid players."
McKinnon said he can't even remember the last time Chisago was even really in a match against the Red Knights.
The catalyst again was Rau and Lizotte. They were the first guys off the court at first doubles after a 6-1, 6-4 shellacking. "It was no contest. They were very crisp and came to the net," McKinnon said. "They were just so positive every point and they trust each other and are very smart at setting up points."
At second doubles, the Red Knights evened the score up when Brian Erickson and Tommy Johnson struggled to put together consistent points for CL.
Turnquist and Haas struggled at first and third singles, respectively, and they both were defeated in straight sets by their BSM counterparts.
That left the match at 3-1 in favor of the Red Knights, and the 'Cats were going to have to run the table in hopes of winning the match.
Cam Bouwens that run started when he won fairly easily at fourth singles. He swept his opponent 6-2, 6-3 to draw Chisago Lakes within one. Gorski kept the momentum going at second singles, winning 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 and tying the meet at three.
The last match was a seesaw battle that, on paper at least, favored Benilde-St. Margarets. The CL tandem was Brian Hynes and Ben Stanghelle, and it was Stanghelle's first ever varsity match. He had played tennis as a sophomore, but didn't come out as a junior last year, and this was his first varsity action.
After CL dropped the first set 4-6, they looked to be heading for defeat when they were down 3-1 in the second set. However, they battled back to run off five straight points and win the set 6-3.
In the last set, as the rest of their teammates looked on, Stanghelle and Hynes kept a lead for the most part at 4-3 and 5-4. They were actually serving for the match at 40-15 while up 5-4, but the Red Knights hung on to even the match at five.
Stanghelle and Hynes broke BSM's serve on the next point to retake the lead at 6-5, and on Stanghelle's serve, the CL pair held on for the 7-5 win to secure the match for the Wildcats.
"It was just cool," McKinnon said of the big win for his program. "We were looking around saying 'We just beat Benilde?' and the BSM guys were looking around like 'We just lost to Chisago?'"
Chisago Lakes 7, St. Francis 0
The next day was key for the 'Cats. As they took the court off the emotional high of beating the Red Knights, they needed to take care of business against St. Francis, a team they've had trouble with in the past.
Not only did they win the match, they absolutely demolished the Saints. Using the same lineup that propelled them to victory over BSM, the Wildcats cruised to a 7-0 victory, not losing a set, or more than three points in any set.
"It was really important how they played against St. Francis," McKinnon said. "They had to play well. It wasn't about a convincing win, they just had to play well. We can't get content."
The Wildcats now will test their endurance. Because of a rain delay last week, CL has a stretch of five matches in six days, and none of them are going to be easy. Although McKinnon is taking it day-by-day, he knows things can improve each one of those days. "Every day, we need to take care of that day, but use that day to set the tone for the next day," he said.
It's not easy doing that when there is 50 kids on the roster, but McKinnon and his assistant, Jon Pieper, have developed a system to be able to work with all the kids and be inclusive. They have two practices a day, an early one and late one, in which they coach the groups of 25 kids. "As a coach, my heart and soul is for every kid. I can't give Coach Pieper enough credit for his effort," McKinnon said. "And we're working as hard as we can to make this a great experience for every kid."