State boys tennis: Luverne knows its way around
LUVERNE -- The Luverne boys tennis team has experience on its side as it heads into its eighth consecutive state tournament on June 6-9 at the Reed Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis. Over the past seven years of state tournament visits, the Car...
LUVERNE -- The Luverne boys tennis team has experience on its side as it heads into its eighth consecutive state tournament on June 6-9 at the Reed Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
Over the past seven years of state tournament visits, the Cardinals have built up a wealth of knowledge -- little things that can help them in the competition. They have their routine down to what hotel to stay at, where practice courts are nearby and even what is the best route to take from the hotel to tournament site.
“I got an email from the director of the site that we will play at, and she invited us to come and practice on the courts and see what it’s like playing inside,” Luverne head coach Greg Antoine said. “And I said, ‘Well, some of these guys have played up there three times in a row. They’ve been there before and done that.”
They’ve been there and done that so many times that the players on the team feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. They are helping to build the legacy of the Luverne boys tennis program, nearing a decade of dominance in Section 3A competition, with eight straight section championships.
“It feels like we’re part of a dynasty that helps make our small town known a little bit,” said senior Layne Curtis, who qualified for individual state alongside his doubles partner Dalton Schoeneman. “It feels good to be the players to get another section championship and then to root on the juniors and sophomores to continue it.”
For some teams, that kind of pressure might be too much to handle, but it drives the Cardinals to improve all season.
“They work hard in practice and they get better in matches because they just don’t want to be the ones to break the streak,” Antoine said.
The Cardinals will play Virginia in the first round on Tuesday at 10 a.m., and the Section 7A champions are something of a mystery to Luverne.
“I don’t know anything about them other than they’re really far north,” Antoine said. “They have been to the state tournament numerous times as we have been.”
Despite the unfamiliarity, the Cardinals know what it’s going to take to win. Just like any other match throughout the season, they must serve well, adjust in their matches and place the ball where they want it. And the strength of the team, as has become the calling card, is its depth.
Luverne prides itself on being solid not only at the top of its singles lineup but all the way down through No. 3 doubles. The Cardinals have the mindset that all of the points count, whether they’re earned at No. 1 singles or at No. 2 doubles, and they have a competitive group that pushes themselves. Even some of the players Antoine thought had not had great seasons put together impressive records when it was all said and done.
“We had our banquet the other night and I looked at some of their records and I look at some of the kids and just say ‘Goll, he’s just not playing very well, he’s not finishing points,’” Antoine said. “And then they end up with a record like 15-5 or 17-2 and I guess they are playing quite well.”
The doubles and singles tournament begins on Thursday after the team tournament has wrapped up. In the first round of the doubles tournament, Curtis and Schoeneman play sophomore Leland Salter and senior Luke Coelho from Fridley. Playing against the top competition in the state will be an adjustment for the duo. They know they can’t make any mistakes.
“We’ll have to be more aggressive angling off the court more,” Curtis said.
“And no lobs,” Schoeneman said. “If they get a smash on you, it just boosts their momentum and then it’s all downhill from there.”
Winning the section was icing on the cake for the pair of seniors who were driven to win after falling in the section tournament last year. In this year’s section tournament, they didn’t drop a single set and defeated Montevideo’s Noah Stoeckman and Brandon Johnson 6-3, 6-1.
“This is probably the best season I’ve had out of my three years,” Curtis said. “But starting out at exhibition and then coming to first doubles and then taking the section and helping the team go to state -- sweeping singles, doubles and the section -- really felt good.”
On the way to state as a singles competitor is Luverne’s No. 1 singles player Chris Jelken. He also swept through the section tournament without dropping a set and defeated Montevideo’s Riley Emery 6-4, 6-2 in the final.
In the first round at state, he will play Virginia’s Jake Seitz and will use his strengths at making adjustments throughout the match to try to find success.
“Chris Jelken is as good as anybody at adjusting to the match,” Antoine said. “He goes into it not knowing who he’s playing and he plays three or four games and I’ll go up to him and say, ‘I need you to this, I need you to do this, I need you to do this.’ And he’ll say, ‘OK.’”