PREP TENNIS: Cardinals turn out to be early birds at state tourney

LUVERNE -- Taking a relatively young team to the boys' state tennis tournament, Luverne head coach Greg Antoine is taking a page from Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

Luverne's Sandager
AARON HAGEN/DAILY GLOBE Luverne's Nick Sandager returns a shot during a tennis match earlier this season. Sandager and the Cardinals begin their state tournament run today.

LUVERNE -- Taking a relatively young team to the boys' state tennis tournament, Luverne head coach Greg Antoine is taking a page from Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

"When (Gardenhire) brings up those rookies, the first thing he tells them is to have fun and enjoy being up here," Antoine said. "Look around and take it in. I think that's what I'm going to tell the kids this year, is look around, take it in, watch and have fun. We have a good shot of being here another year.

"This year, let's get our feet on the ground and play some good tennis and see what it's like. Then you'll know you want to come back and you'll work harder this summer and try to get back next year."

The Cardinals, who sport a roster of two seniors and one junior, open at 10 a.m. today against Virginia at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis facility in Minneapolis.

Antoine doesn't know much about the Blue Devils. But they know about the Cardinals.


"I don't know what Virginia is like; I have no idea," Antoine said. "They did come down and scout us. They were down at the section finals. They watched all the matches. Six hours they drove down."

The winners from Section 3 haven't fared well at the state tournament. But Antoine hopes to change that this year.

"Traditionally, our section hasn't done a lot in the tournament," Antoine said. "It's just hard for us because nobody plays all year long like they do up there. They must think there is somebody good this year or they wouldn't have come down and scouted us."

If Luverne, who also qualified in 2005, '06 and '08, would defeat Virginia, it would play on Wednesday morning. If the Cardinals would come up short, they would turn around and play again at 4 p.m. today.

"I don't remember any Section 3 team winning up there since I started coaching," Antoine said. "It would be fun to win one and then you're guaranteed two more matches. That would be kind of fun to be playing on Wednesday."

At the beginning of the season, Antoine wasn't sure his team would still bel competing.

"We started off fairly slow," the coach said. "We were 3-3. After that, we were 13-1. The way I look at it, we had some really good performances on the team. People just kind of piggy-backed off that and they just kept getting better. The third doubles and fourth singles had tremendous records at those areas."

It was those victories that helped carry Luverne to a 4-3 victory against Worthington the section finals.


A week later, Joey Vajgrt and the doubles team of Michael Graff and Joel Wohnoutka also qualified.

"It's about as good as it gets, to get the whole team and then to get a singles and a doubles," Antoine said. "I really thought we were a year away from this.

"Worthington had all those seniors and Montevideo has a bunch of seniors. I just didn't know if my young kids could do it."

But the young Cardinals started to grow and mature as the season progressed.

"It's hard to put a finger on one match," Antoine said. "I know when we beat Montevideo, that was kind of an uplifter. They had some good players. That kind of told me that, 'Hey, we really do have a shot at this thing.'"

Throughout the season, not only did the team play better tennis, but also grew closer.

"This is one of the closest teams I think I've had in a long time," Antoine said. "They just pull for each other. There was one time in St. James and Jonny (Vajgrt) hit a good shot. From about three different courts, I heard, 'Good shot Jonny.' I know the kids are watching each other and pulling for each other. I think that's what pulled together and gave us a big string of wins at the end of the year."

Joey Vajgrt drew Pine City senior Derek Lutz in the first round, while Graff and Wohnoutka will face Saint Peter's Spencer Gault and Mike Huber.


Both matches will be on Thursday.

What To Read Next
Get Local