'Jacks pick up pace after slow start
Like most local sports teams, the Cloquet boys tennis team had a slow start to the season. Late-season snow kept the team off the local courts, and with virtually no outside practice time, the 'Jacks struggled early to find wins on their schedule and went 1-4 through their first five meets.
"We started out a little slow. We also faced tough section foes right away in Virginia, Eveleth and Hibbing, and with the shortened spring due to the weather, we didn't get much practice time," Cloquet coach Derek Johnson said. "We couldn't find a rhythm out on the court and we saw a lot of unforced errors from the kids. As they saw more reps, the kids began to clean up the errors, which produced better tennis, which resulted in some victories."
Those results were eight-straight wins, some of which were against very competitive teams that could have gone either way.
"Our guys battled and got the job done," Johnson said. "We really hope to stay on a hot streak as we head into the playoffs, which begin this Thursday (May 17)."
Peter Tomhave, a junior, has been Cloquet's consistent No. 1 singles player who plays the opposition's No. 1 player week in and week out, while Dennis Genereau has been playing the season at No. 2 singles all season.
"It is a difficult position for Peter, but he has held his own and done a great job," Johnson said. "Dennis is a guy that has great knowledge and a great attitude about the the game. If Dennis were to face legendary players like Nadal or Federer, he'd tell you: 'I can beat those guys.'"
Peterson plays Kade Bender at No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles, while Luke Lamirdande has played both No. 3 and No. 4 singles.
"There's no quit with Kade. He may go down in the first set and rally to win the next two sets," Johnson said. "Luke is just a steady kid that knows his game and he keeps the game in play.
Luke will just outlast other players. He doesn't hit a lot of winners — he lets his opponent make the mistakes."
In doubles play, Johnson has the luxury of a deep and talented group. It doesn't hurt having 12 players who can be mixed and matched for 10 varsity positions, including singles and doubles players.
"As far as doubles go, I have mixed and matched a lot of players," Johnson said. "Figuring out the chemistry is a big part of it as to who works well together. Matching strengths and weaknesses so things even out on the court. It's nice that I have 12 guys that I can work with." Players like Ryan Frederickson, Drew Doesken, Landon Langenbrunner, Harlan Foster, Mason Langenbrunner, Cal Pertler, Christian Loeb and Jonathan Muhvich have all seen action at doubles.
"I knew we'd have to lean on Peter and Dennis because those are our top dogs and needed to take charge in pulling some wins together," Johnson said. "We also knew that Kade and Landon were a solid doubles team from the year before and that we could rely on them at No. 1 doubles again this year. It just so happened to work out that Kade was a strong No. 3 singles player for us this so year, so then it was back to the drawing board of matching up doubles players again."
Both Luke Lamirande and Ryan Frederickson were singled out by Johnson as being among the most improved on the team from last season.
"Luke has been one of the most reliable guys on our team and has gone from being out with an injury most of last year to full time varsity this year," Johnson said. "Ryan's first year was last year and he played a lot of two and three doubles for us and now this year he's been a real good No. 1 doubles player and I've also had him at 3 and 4 singles as of late. The senior has stepped up his game this year."
Another surprise player, according to Johnson, has been Mason Langenbrunner, who as a ninth-grader has really picked up the game. Langenbrunner has been full-time varsity at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles.
Seeding for the sectional tournament was Tuesday, May 15. Cloquet learned they earned the No. 4 seed, which means they will travel Thursday, May 17, to Duluth Marshall, which was the No. 5 seed. Despite being seeded lower than the Hilltoppers, the 'Jacks have already defeated Marshall. Back on May 7, Cloquet downed Marshall 6-1, which bodes well for the first round.