Cloquet netters face packed scheduleThe Cloquet boys tennis team is in a situation coach Steve Rickstom hasn’t seen in his 10 years with the program. They have more players than court space.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet boys tennis team is in a situation coach Steve Rickstom hasn’t seen in his 10 years with the program. They have more players than court space.
Thirty-one players are out for the team this spring, the most in Rickstrom’s memory.
“We’ve had some very good individual players here, but I can’t remember having a team as deep as this one,” he said. “We have about 15 players this year who have had some sort of varsity experience.”
Half a dozen of those players have extensive experience, leading Rickstrom to speculate that this season might be an interesting one from a team standpoint.
The team has played two matches in the young spring season, losing 6-1 to Eveleth-Gilbert in its opener before rebounding to crush Duluth Denfeld 7-0 in its second match, played Tuesday in Cloquet.
No Cloquet player lost a set in the whitewashing and the team members only dropped 17 games out of the 101 played in all seven matches.
“It was good for confidence, but Denfeld’s team has dropped off over the last few years from where it’s been,” Rickstrom said.
Rickstrom also noted that he held out about half of the varsity’s top performers from the match.
Senior Colton Roy holds down the No. 1 singles place with junior Dylan Burslie playing at No. 2 singles. After that, the field is open.
Junior Jake Sorensen could play either singles or doubles, while freshman John Scheuer holds down the No. 4 singles spot for the time being. Senior Nathan Blascyk could play either singles or doubles, but Rickstrom has so far chosen to slot the player into his preferred place in the No. 1 doubles team.
Junior Chase Pritchett could also play either singles or doubles, but past injuries have slowed him a bit.
“He’s also an outstanding doubles player, so that helps,” Rickstrom said.
Obviously, depth is a key strength.
“Counting down our top 10 players, this is probably the deepest team I’ve had,” Rickstrom said. “The top six kids are the ones we’re really counting on, and we’ll rotate in others as we need them.”
The total of 31 players has made practicing a challenge, but a nice one to have. “With the facilities we have, it’s hard to practice with 31 kids,” Rickstrom said. “But we manage. There’s also a real nice crop of seventh- and eighth-grade players coming up this year.”
That will mean continued growth for the program if the players elect to stay with the sport.
“We will see potential down the road for fielding quality teams,” the coach added. “Until we have more access to indoor facilities, we’ll be a step behind the Easts and the Marshalls. But we have a lot of kids in the works.”
No discussion of area high school tennis is complete without talking about the elephant in the room – Duluth East.
“They are the benchmark,” Rickstrom said. “I don’t know if we can really match with them – we lost to Eveleth-Gilbert 6-1 and East beat them by the same score. Any one of the kids they have could come here and play. Our goal is to meet them in a championship-type setting, but we don’t know how feasible that is.”
If the squad’s depth is any indication, it may not be a pie-in-the-sky fantasy after all. However, the team will learn a lot about itself over the coming week.
After playing at Duluth Central on Saturday, the team plays five matches in a six-day span. It all starts with home matches against East on Monday, Ashland on Tuesday and Aitkin on Thursday. The team travels to Grand Rapids on Friday and plays in a four-team tournament in Princeton on Saturday.
“That tournament usually matches up teams from the southern part of our region,” Rickstrom said. “It’s going to be busy this week.”