Aitkin’s Alex Anderson and Dan Klucas are 5-0 heading into their first state tournament.
Staples-Motley’s Josh Solway and Shane Seuss are 18-2 heading into their first state tournament.
The two groups of seniors will take their accomplished records, multiple years of varsity experience and talents to the Class 1A state doubles tournament Thursday and Friday at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
For Klucas-Anderson the road begins against Blake’s Taylor Parr-Evan Carter.
“The boys we face in the first round played No. 3 and No. 4 singles for Blake,” said Aitkin head coach Joe Walz. “That’s good for us. They do come from a great program in Blake, but they’re lower on the totem pole.
“Also, they’re kind of like us in that they are singles players turned doubles for the tournament. Obviously, they finished high enough in their section that they’re in the tournament, but I would rather play singles players than a doubles team that has played doubles all year long.”
Anderson-Klucas played one regular-season match as a doubles team, then cruised through the Section 7-1A tournament, winning in straight sets in all four of their matches.
“They’re playing outstanding,” said Walz. “I think they’re ready for any high school player.
“One advantage we have is that the Blake team is underclassmen and our boys are both seniors. They have that little added drive and confidence level and headiness. Hopefully that will help them through the difficult points. They’re going to lose some points down there and knowing how to manage that or when your opponent makes you look bad, managing that stress and getting into the next point to do battle again, I think we’re going to have the edge.”
A victory sends the Aitkin duo into the quarterfinals against the winner of yet another private school, either Rochester Lourdes’ Robert Turlington-Brian Utz or Breck’s Austin Wong-Brenham Wong.
A loss puts Aitkin’s team in the consolation bracket where it would face the loser of that matchup.
Klucas-Anderson is only the second doubles team from Aitkin to advance to state.
Staples-Motley has a history of state representatives, but this will be Seuss-Solway’s first appearance. They will face Foley’s Benjamin Hageman-Sam Wittwer in the opening round.
“We played Foley at their place,” said Staples-Motley head coach Dave Johnson. “In that situation, they didn’t play this doubles team because Hageman was Foley’s first singles player. But those guys are experienced doubles players. Hageman played doubles for three or four years before this year. I believe he’s gone to state as a doubles team before.”
Solway-Seuss finished the regular season 15-1, then went 3-1 in the Section 8-1A tournament, losing to teammates Guthrie Coughlin-Austin Hirschey.
There was confusion concerning the eligibility of the Coughlin-Hirschey team, but it was confirmed in an email Wednesday from Craig Perry, associate director of the Minnesota State High School League, and one of the doubles team’s parents, that the two seniors will play Thursday.
This will be Coughlin’s second state tournament. For Hirschey it will be his first. Coughlin played No. 1 singles and Hirschey No. 2 during the regular season.
According to the MSHSL website, Coughlin-Hirschey will have a first-round bye. They would play the winner of St. Peter’s Mitch Elofson-Nathan Huber and David Schneck-Ben Ronning of Fergus Falls in the quarterfinal round.
Seuss-Solway played doubles all year long, which should benefit them.
“When they get in correct doubles position they are very electrifying,” said Johnson. “They are quick. And Shane is 6-foot-2 with long arms and that can be very intimidating.
“When they focus in on a high percentage of their serves, they can be very productive. When that focus is lost then they aren’t as productive. We’ve been focusing a lot on the three firsts — the first serve, first return and then the first volley.”
Depending on the outcome of opening-round matches, Seuss-Solway would play either Breck’s Tucker Sjoblad-Andrew Engel or Virginia’s Blair Seitz-Marc Krebsbach.
“Those two have enough wisdom as far as strategy, positioning and understanding the game,” said Johnson. “They’re both happy to be playing and I think they’ll do well.”