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CEC ends season with near miss, looks to future

A combination of bad luck and skilled opposition ended the season for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team in section play last week.

In team play, the ’Jacks blitzed North Branch 7-0 on Tuesday night before falling 6-1 at Chisago Lakes the next evening.

“We drew sixth seed in the team and had a fairly easy match against North Branch,” Coach Steve Rickstrom said. “We knew what [North Branch was] all about because we beat them earlier in the year but Chisago Lakes was the strongest team we faced all year other than Virginia.”

Joey Gotchnik and Robbie Sobczak earned the CEC’s team point at first doubles. After losing the first set 6-2, they roared back to win the last two by 6-3 and 6-0 to win. Tim Paczynski and Lucas Tomhave lost in straight sets at No. 2 but the second set went to a tie break.  All four singles players lost in straight sets.

“Chisago Lakes went on to beat Duluth East so I thought those teams were comparable,” Rickstrom said. “Obviously, Chisago was a little better.  All the way through the lineup, especially at singles, they had a clear advantage and they were a stronger team.”

Next up was the singles tournament. After a first-round bye, eighth seed Ryan Willgohs had a tough draw and a tough result in the second, falling 6-0, 6-0 to Zeke Delain of Elk River.

“We have two of the best players in the state in our region so coaches were moving their singles players to the doubles tournament,” Rickstrom said. “That helped us in terms of our seeding but Delain had played doubles all year and, really, he was better than the fourth-seeded player.  Ryan had a tough draw.”

Meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Pritchett beat Dustin Doucette of St. Francis 6-1, 6-2 in his second round match despite playing with a painful case of tennis elbow. After losing 6-2, 6-3 to Elliot Schnider of Duluth East in the third round, Pritchett tweeted that he could hardly hold his racquet.

“He did it while practicing after the Chisago Lakes match, overdid it,” Rickstrom said. “If you’ve ever had tennis elbow, you know it hurts. You lose the strength in your hand and in his second match he couldn’t even hit a forehand. That was too bad because healthy, Christian beats that player.”

In the doubles, unseeded Ben Tomhave and Tim Paczynski drew Hunter Shortly and Noah Alm of Forest Lake and lost 6-2, 6-0 in another unfortunate draw.  

“The top 11 teams were seeded and the rest drawn out of a hat,” Rickstrom said. “Ben and Tim drew a very tough team. Watching the other matches in the tournament, Ben and Tim could have beaten any of the other teams we saw. It was just a bad draw.”

Meanwhile, ninth seeds Gotchnik and Sobczak drew a bye before knocking off Gus Fedje-Johnson and Coleton Anderson of Grand Rapids in three sets, by 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

“They played their best set of the season in the first set but lost the second and were down 4-3 in the third,” Rickstrom said. “But they dug deep and got a defining win. That was a high point of the season and hopefully it shows where we are going as a program.”

In the third round, though, the ’Jacks team ran into top seeds Sam Gearou and Nathan Chanthamontry of Elk River, who won 6-0, 6-0.

“From top to bottom that Elk River team is ridiculously good,” Rickstrom said. “It wasn’t a pretty match but our guys competed hard.”

The team loses three seniors in Tomhave, Paczynski and the injured Ryan Lind.  

“We are starting a summer practice program in June and we think Ryan Willgohs is going to play some USTA tournaments,” Rickstrom said. “We have a scrappy bunch and one thing everyone said about us is that we compete hard. We are a step away from becoming a Chisago Lakes-type program. The issue we had is that the southern teams had more access to indoor practice time and their courts cleared of snow faster.”