One of the nice things about having a veteran team in spring sports is that more experienced players have a shorter path to being fully ready for the rigors of the season.
That's the case with the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team, which won its seventh consecutive match Tuesday, May 7, by a 7-0 score over Superior.
CEC is now 9-3 on the year and the senior-dominated squad is doing just fine, thank you very much.
"That's a nice feeling," coach Derek Johnson said of the streak, which virtually guarantees a good seed for the coming section playoffs - already coming next week.
The four singles players - Peter Tomhave, Kade Bender, Dennis Genereau and Travis Berg - lost only seven games among them in the eight sets they played. All four won their matches in straight sets. The three doubles teams, which also won their matches in straight sets, lost 10 games among them.
It was almost as good for the team in a similar 7-0 dismissal of Duluth Marshall on Monday, May 6. Only singles player Ethan Doty was extended to three sets before winning his match; everyone else won their matches in straight sets, dropping 23 games among the remaining six players and teams.
So things are looking good.
"I like where we are at," Johnson said. "These are nice wins, but Marshall is a bit down from past years. I told the players to take care of their business and they did."
That's another good feeling for Johnson, who has built a program where he is able to say such a thing to players in the first place.
"It's a destination point for us as a program," he said. "The younger players see the attitude and they learn it, too."
The team has had only limited practice time, so the large number of experienced players helps in that regard, too.
"I'm still figuring out the 'sturdy 10' starting lineup, but it's close," Johnson said. "But I think we are pretty good when we get enough reps. Teams like Virginia and Eveleth can get an advantage from having indoor facilities, but our top guys are getting to the level where we saw them at the end of last season, and that's just at the right time."
With playoffs starting Thursday, May 16, time is even shorter for the players.
"Our seniors who have been there understand how spring tennis is, and realize that not every spring is perfect," Johnson said. "You won't be outside every day; it will be cold; and they have been patient and accepting even with the terrible weather. And, their plates are full with other things, with grad parties, graduation, other award ceremonies. They are busy."
All the distractions make the team's record even more impressive.
"I really couldn't ask for better," Johnson said. "If you had told me at the start that this is where we'd be now, I might not have believed it. Our leaders have really stepped up and I am very proud."
The team was scheduled to face Hibbing on Wednesday, May 8, and then will finish a match against Eveleth-Gilbert which was stopped by rain Thursday, May 9; both matches are at 1 p.m. Then the team hosts Denfeld later Thursday.
"Next week, we have Hermantown too and we have to play in the middle of the day now because there's no other option," Johnson said. "That's lots of tennis for the guys, but that's what we signed up for."