May 5, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.
The Wildcats tennis team kept their conference record unblemished over the last week with three more victories, two of them over teams that beat them last year when they finished fourth in the North Suburban.
Chisago Lakes 7, Totino-Grace 0
The Totino-Grace Eagles were first on the docker for the Wildcats. Despite losing last year 4-3, Chisago Lakes swept the Eagles right out of the match in 2011, but it wasn't without some strong efforts up and down the lineup.
Johannes Rau buzzed through his opponent quickly, winning 6-0, 6-1 at first singles and getting an early point for Chisago Lakes.
Joe Turnquist struggled a bit at second singles, playing a foreign exchange student from Spain, but he didn't deter. "It was a great match," Head Coach Corey McKinnon said. "But, Joe was down from the get go."
After dropping the first set 3-6, Turnquist, only a freshman, battled back to take the second set 6-3 and set up a third set in the important point.
In the third set, Turnquist was down 1-4, and it looked like he was headed for a tough three-set loss. "I'm pretty sure the other guy thought he had the match wrapped up," McKinnon said afterwards. Far from it.
Turnquist rattled off the next five points, breaking his opponents serve twice, and won the set 6-4 and took the point down. "Even though Joe is very even keeled and doesn't show much emotion on the outside, it was great to see him just battle because you know inside he was fighting that whole time."
Vinnie Gorski won pretty handily at third singles, winning 6-3, 7-5. Although the score get fairly close in the second set, Gorski was never in too much danger. He was facing a very defensive opponent and Gorski simply beared down when he needed to and put the ball where it needed to go.
At fourth singles, Blake Lizotte won 6-4, 6-4. "Blake really battled, and I believe fourth singles is really about battling and just being more consistent than your opponent," McKinnon said. Lizotte really dictated the pace of the match and kept the score at a pretty safe distance for the most part.
At first doubles, seniors Brett Lizotte and Brian Hynes lost only their second set of the year, but still came back to win the match and stay undefeated on the year.
The Wildcat pair lost the first set 3-6, and it was a combo of both pairs that did them in. "To Totino-Grace's credit, their one doubles team came out attacking," McKinnon said "Brian and Brett were missing shots that they normally make."
In the second set, it seemed that Hynes flipped a switch mentally. He started finishing volleys with authority and attacked the opponents regularily. The CL pair found their rhythm as the match wore on and they won the next two sets 6-3, 6-4. "The other team made those guys earn it, which is something I want them to experience," McKinnon said of his top doubles pair, which is unbeaten on the season at 10-0. "We just can't hurry through matches. It's one thing if your opponent is just better than you, but sometimes we have to slow it down and take it one point at a time. The kids just have to work at a pace that works for them."
At second doubles Albin Anner and Will Gillach breezed through their first set, winning 6-2, but then started to labor through the second. The pair of Eagles across from them started to make shots and it became a battle of serves for the second doubles team. Gillach and Anner lost the second set 5-7, but they rebounded to take the third set 7-5 and stay undefeated on the year at 10-0. It was a very evenly match contest, however. McKinnon noted that it had a good pace and was a very competitive match throughout.
At third doubles, Jake Sells and his new partner Hunter Haas won easily, 6-3, 6-3. Hunter stepped in for his brother Hogan Haas, who had been Sells partner for the first part of the season.
"Hunter has been doing a lot of good things, and he played a pretty consistent match with Jake," McKinnon said.
Chisago Lakes 6, Irondale 1
Despite losing a single match, Chisago Lakes still ran through another North Suburban opponent fairly easily as they topped the Knights 6-1.
The lone loss came off the racquet of Turnquist at second singles. He dropped the match 3-6, 3-6. "Tennis is a game like anything else, and sometimes it just isn't your day, and it wasn't Joe's day then," McKinnon stated. "He just wasn't hitting his sweet spot, and his opponent hit some good shots. He was trying to play catch up all game, but I think Joe playing better could beat the kid he played that day."
The really highlight of the day for the Wildcats came at fourth singles. Seventh grader Blake Lizotte won in dramatic fashion, 7-6 (7-3), 2-6, 6-2 over a senior who has six years of age and experience on him.
McKinnon was thrilled that Lizotte got a tiebreaker in the first set. "Anytime you get a chance to play a tiebreaker, you try to get the kids tom embrace it," he said. "It's a great chance to play some good tennis, and Blake did a good job gutting it out."
In the second set, Lizotte faltered through some stumbles, losing 2-6, but he recovered and did what he needed to do to win in the third set, winning 6-2.
The other matches were pretty cut and dry for Chisago Lakes. Rau won 6-2, 6-1, Gorski won 6-2, 6-2, Brett Lizotte and Hynes won 6-2, 6-2, Gillach and Anner won 6-2, 6-2 and Hunter Haas and Sells won 6-3, 6-2.
One thing that McKinnon liked out of his doubles teams was the support they gave to each other. Most teams split the courts up and don't have many doubles teams playing next to each other, but Irondale put all of them together, side by side. "They were all very supportive of each other, and it was a nice feeling watching them work out there," he said.
Chisago Lakes 7, Spring Lake Park 0
The Panthers handed Chisago Lakes their only loss last year by more than one point. They downed them 5-2 in 2010, but the Wildcats are a much different team this year.
Most of the matches were one-sided in favor of Chisago Lakes, but Rau finally got a stiff challenge in conference. Although he had a three-setter with the Benilde singles player earlier this year, Rau had to go to a tiebreaker to win this match.
Both players entered the match undefeated in the North Suburban, and only Rau came out with his mark still unblemished with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) win.
"Joe needed a good match," McKinnon said. "So many times at first singles, the players are just at different levels of play, so it's nice when guys at an upper level meet up."
In the first set, the pair traded points to three until Rau broke his opponent's serve, and it was cruise control from there.
In the second set, both players held their serve throughout, and it resulted in a 6-6 stalemate between the two.
In the tiebreaker, Rau got up early, and just didn't look back en route to a 7-2 victory.
In other matches, Turnquist won 6-1, 6-2, Gorski won 6-0, 6-0, Blake Lizotte won 6-2, 6-4, Brett Lizotte and Hynes won 6-1, 6-4, Anner and Gillach won 6-3, 6-4 and Hunter Haas and Sells won 6-3, 6-1.
One thing that McKinnon has been able to lean on since the season began has been the consistency of his lineup. Throughout the past couple of years, there was constant shuffling and tinkering to find the right combinations of players, but this year, the lineup has been set in stone for the most part.
"It's so fun for me because I know what they are capable of. In the beginning of the year, we had 16 kids really competing for 10 varsity spots to form the lineup. With Rau taking over first singles, that pushed Turnquist from first to second and Gorski from second to third. I almost feel that we have all four singles points won before we step on the court, and our doubles teams are bonus points.
"Our depth has really set it up, but the kids have gotten time to understand their position, as well as each other. In year's past we'd always been looking for a spark, but the last thing I want to do is overcoach this thing. The kids are working so hard as it is that it's like an 'open the cage and let them run' feeling for the lineup."
The rock solid lineup has produced a 9-1 record on the season so far, with an astounding record of 61-9 in individual matches.
It's another busy week ahead for the Wildcats. They take on Fridley today, May 5 at 4:30 before heading off to Andover for a big tournament on Saturday morning.
The Andover tourney shakes out like sections, as first singles players take on first singles players and first doubles players take on first doubles players and so on. Among the teams featured at the tourney are Hibbing, Forest Lake, Chisago Lakes, North Branch, Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Eagan and Fairmont.
Although only half the teams are in the section, that doesn't bother McKinnon, who said at this point, the 'Cats just want to be playing good matches of tennis against good teams. "We just have to focus on the process," he said. "One point, one game, one set, one match, one day, one week and one season. We have to take it one step at a time."
Following the tournament, Chisago Lakes will take on St. Louis Park on Monday, May 9. The Orioles are the last remaining team left that beat the Wildcats last year, and figure to be the biggest hurdle standing between the Wildcats and a North Suburban Conference crown.
The match will be at home on Monday at 4:30, and it should bring out the best tennis in both teams with the stakes as high as they've been in years.