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Boys tennis vs bad weather, the battle continues

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Cloquet sophomore Ryan Willgohs hits a shot against Duluth East during his tennis match against Duluth East on Monday. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal 2 / 5
Cloquet senior Ben Tomhave hits a backhand during Monday’s tennis meet at Longview Tennis Club. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal 3 / 5
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Yes, Virginia, there is a spring in northeastern Minnesota.

Or more accurately, it’s “Yes, Duluth.” Finally, a Cloquet spring team has gotten outdoors to play a match, with the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team playing Duluth East on Monday at Longview Tennis Center.

Coach Steve Rickstrom said the 6-1 final for East was much closer than the score, as his comparatively veteran team extended the perennial power from East Duluth in several matches.

“East graduated a few [players],” Rickstrom said. “I thought this was the year we could, if not beat them, absolutely give them a run for their money.  We did do that in places and for quite awhile we thought we were going to walk away with a win.”

Two of the three doubles matches went to three sets and fourth singles player Anders Pertler lost a third-set tie-breaker. Had those matches gone CEC’s way, they would indeed have won.

Pertler lost to E.J. Hietala 3-6, 6-2, 9-11 at fourth singles. Robbie Sobczak and Ryan Lind won their first set at first doubles over Ryan Aytraylia and Andrew Zimmerman by 6-0, but lost the next two.

Tim Paczynski and Joey Gotchnik lost at second doubles 7-5, 4-6, 3-6 but Josh Keith and Peter Tomhave picked up a point at third doubles with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Eric Patterson and Henry Lalibertie.

Christian Pritchett, Ryan Willgohs and Ben Tomhave all fell in straight sets at first, second and third singles.

The team actually opened its season on April 8 with a 6-1 win at Eveleth-Gilbert. The ’Jacks came up with six straight set wins to defeat the Golden Bears, who lost a number of players from last year’s team to graduation.

Willgohs, Robbie Sobczak and Ben Tomhave won in straight sets at second, third and fourth singles and the teams of Lind and Gotchnik, Lucas Tomhave and Paczynski and John Frosig and Josh Keith swept the doubles.

“Eveleth took a hit in graduation and lost a couple of kids to other sports,” Rickstrom said. “Their talent level came down quite a bit. It wasn’t real close. We had zero outdoor practices before we played them, but we still gave them a good beating.”

For now, though, the biggest challenge is simply finding court time for the players that isn’t on a match day. The second straight late spring in the area has hampered practice schedules and game schedules alike.

“It’s horribly frustrating for the kids,” Rickstrom said. “I’ve got four kids who joined track because they could get in the gym and a couple kids wanted to pole vault at Esko so they are doing tennis and track. When we know we are supposed to have a tournament on April 5 and we look out the window and see four feet of snow, they know that won’t happen.”

As of now, the team has lost two tournaments to weather, one of which has been rescheduled. The remaining spring schedule will be chaotic.

“We’re short a match with Superior that we might be able to make up,” Rickstrom said. “By the end of the year we’ll probably be playing matches all the time and not get much practice time.”

That will hinder the development of the younger players, some of whom are beginners.

“I’ve got a full returning varsity roster,” Rickstrom said. “Those kids spent some time in the winter indoors playing tennis and came back better than they left last spring, but I have a whole half a dozen kids who I would classify as beginners who are still learning to hit the ball. Those kids really suffer without hitting in practice. My varsity kids will find a way to get court time.”

Also this spring, Duluth Denfeld folded its tennis program, opening up scheduling dates. Rickstrom hopes that one of those dates will be a rematch against East.

“I hope we get to play them twice,” he said. “We both lost a date where we would play in the same tournament, and we talked (Monday) that these were competitive matches and we should try again (to play). We are working on a date to add them.”

The schedule is hectic. The team is slated to play at Ashland on Tuesday night, at home on Friday against Grand Rapids on a day where rain is expected, and in a six-team tournament at Hibbing on Saturday.

“We have East, Marshall, Hibbing, Cambridge, Rapids and us,” Rickstrom said. “If we can come out of there looking like we are competitive, we’ll have a good idea of where we are at.”

Rickstrom wanted to thank everyone who has helped get the team’s home courts ready for play as the snow finally melts.

“We have had a lot of people who have been clearing off our courts,” Rickstrom said. “Some of our team and parents, some adults have put in time over there. We’ll take all the help we can get. I’m excited to get outside and finally hit some balls around.”