Experienced CEC netters beat old adversary to start seasonThe Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team has a nice blend of youth and experience, and Tuesday’s season home opener provided proof against a tough opponent.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team has a nice blend of youth and experience, and Tuesday’s season home opener provided proof against a tough opponent.
The ‘Jacks beat Eveleth-Gilbert 5-2 in their only home match in the next two weeks, but coach Steve Rickstrom said the match might just indicate a good season ahead.
“They are a good team,” Rickstrom said of the visitors. “Usually they come in and beat us pretty regular.”
Not so on Tuesday. CEC took three of the four singles matches and two of the three doubles matches to win with some ease.
Five of CEC’s six seniors were involved in team points. In singles, No. 1 Dylan Burslie was a 6-4, 6-4 winner against Sean Mackey of the Golden Bears, while Zach Zezulka dropped the second set against Eveleth’s Mark Florey but roared back to win the third 6-2.
“It was nice to see Zack step up,” Rickstrom said. “He had a tough match and it was good to see him win.”
In doubles, the first team of seniors Jake Sorenson and Chase Pritchett won in straight sets, while senior Jon Hammitt teamed with junior Ryan Kedrowski for a straight set win as well. The team’s sixth senior, Isaak Waldorf, fell at No. 3 doubles with sophomore partner Luke Heine.
CEC’s fifth team point came from sophomore Tanner Webster, who beat Matt Skubic in a third set tiebreaker.
“Everyone survived,” Rickstrom said. “We held out just fine in the wind. We told the Eveleth people they should have been here three weeks ago when it was nice.”
The fine early spring weather gave Rickstrom an opportunity he’s never had before as a coach – the ability to go straight outside and practice.
“We had no gym practices, for the first time ever,” he said. “We had a nice, early start, captain’s practices started a long time ago. The kids have been working hard, and we had some nice moments.”
That leads to better players in the long run, which is a primary goal of the program.
“We had kids who also took advantage of indoor court time over the winter,” Rickstrom said. “That is the big key. They went and played someplace.”
That is a help on a team with 28 players.
“We’ve had numbers in the twenties for the last few years but this is the first time we have pushed 30 players,” Rickstrom said. “And everyone wants court time.”
To have six seniors is also a rare thing.
“On the one hand, I’m happy to have all this experience, but on the other, it’s going to be tough to graduate all these kids,” the coach added.
With a pipeline producing players, though, Rickstrom is hopeful the program will remain strong.
“We have lots of community support in terms of volunteers and getting kids playing,” he said. “We have had a really good start to this year.”
Cloquet will face Duluth Central on Thursday and Aitkin on Friday as the season starts to pick up steam.