CEC shovels their way to the seasonWhen their season starts, many tennis players talk about the latest clothing, racquet or technological innovation. If you’re on the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team, you talk about survival gear.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
When their season starts, many tennis players talk about the latest clothing , racquet or technological innovation. If you’re on the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team, you talk about survival gear.
The players have spent most of their pre-season shoveling snow off their high school courts, as the stubborn late winter of 2012-13 refuses to go away.
“It’s still going on,” Coach Steve Rickstrom said. “This is the worst winter I can remember.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the team had only been able to hit practice balls on two occasions, with only two courts completely cleared of snow for practice.
“We’ve got two that are close, but we’re still shoveling,” Rickstrom said.
The coach himself often wears gloves while feeding tennis balls to his players to hit. Still, despite the very late start to practice, the ’Jacks will be bolstered by eight returning starters from the 10 varsity positions of last season.
“We know what we’ve got,” Rickstrom said. “We know exactly what we have talent-wise, but we aren’t sure what we’ve got health-wise.”
Second singles player Ryan Lind has had shoulder surgery in the past and missed almost all of last season with injury.
“He’s not quite right yet and we are hoping he will be a top player,” Rickstrom said. “We are happy with what we have, though. We always want more, but our guys are going to show people we will be competitive.”
Rickstrom has about two dozen players out for the team this spring but with only 10 varsity spots available and no junior varsity team, he recognizes those numbers may change.
“We might lose a few but the numbers are still high,” he said. “Some of the kids know they won’t get much chance to play and we might not keep all of them.”
The non-varsity players will go to a tournament in Cambridge in about two weeks for match action.
“We get them a full day of tennis but it’s not nearly what some of the other schools are offering,” he said. “We are behind the eight-ball in that regard.”
On the varsity, though, things look pretty well set. Senior Sean Kedrowski, who has played varsity tennis since eighth grade, begins his fifth full season of varsity play.
“He is tough and a good player with power,” Rickstrom said. “He can beat anybody up here if he plays well.”
Sophomore Christian Pritchett joins Kedrowski and, hopefully, Lind as returning singles players.
Freshmen Robbie Sobczak and Ryan Willgohs, who saw varsity time last year as eighth-graders, join juniors Nick Tomhave and Ben Tomhave as returning doubles players.
Freshman Joey Gotchnik also returns after playing part-time last year.
“Those players will probably see quite a bit of action,” Rickstrom said. “We also have four or five kids thinking they are next up to play and ready to step in.”
That is, if the weather ever cooperates.
“At this point it’s almost becoming laughable,” Rickstrom said. “We go back to last year where we had the courts cleared off in March and we were in shorts and T-shirts three weeks before the season. When they were done with hockey, they were playing tennis. This year, not so much.”
For their part, the players are taking their snow-removal roles well. The team gave up its first home match of the season against Eveleth-Gilbert to play the Golden Bears on the road next Tuesday — at Virginia’s indoor facility.
“They would rather get on the bus and go up there to play indoors rather than out,” Rickstrom said. “As long as they get to play they will be happy. But Eveleth gets 90 minutes of indoor practice time a day while we’re shoveling snow.”
The ’Jacks are scheduled to host Aitkin next Thursday but that match is also in jeopardy due to the courts possibly not being ready for play.
“We need some melting going on before we can have them drive from Aitkin,” Rickstrom said. “Maybe this weekend.”