At 10-0, Alexandria players are starting to feel the same magic that led the Cardinals to state in 2019
The Alexandria boys tennis team has blown by some opponents like it did on Friday against St. Cloud Apollo, but the Cardinals have also found ways to win multiple close matches against fellow section contenders. It's creating another special season with confidence growing for this group with every win.
Alexandria senior tennis player Andrew Wegner had been out of the Cardinals’ lineup for about a week after dealing with migraines in what was a non-COVID related illness.
Wegner deemed himself to be at about 90% on Friday night, but it was time for him to get back into the lineup as one of the leaders of this team. With the way things are going for the Cardinals, he didn’t want to miss any more time.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I was really excited to get back,” Wegner said after a 7-0 win over St. Cloud Apollo-Sauk Rapids-Rice moved Alexandria to 10-0 on Friday. “The team has been playing really well. I was out like a whole week, so I was excited to get back.”
Win by win, there is a feeling among these players that this could be another special season taking place. The Cardinals mixed up their lineup and put guys at different positions against Apollo knowing a team win was all but a given.
St. Cloud has just eight players and could not keep up as Alexandria took every match in straight sets. Gannon Lueck, Aaron Jost, Pieter Mulder and Brennan Parker won in singles.
Senior Jacob Partington and freshman Owen Gilbertson teamed up to take the first doubles match for the Cardinals, and Wegner joined Dylan Nelson to win at second doubles. Brennen Lattimer and Cole Haabala won by forfeit at third doubles.
“Two years ago when we went to state, that was a big deal,” Wegner said. “I think this year we’re proving that we can do that again. That we can be that team.”
That’s the goal for this group. The win over Apollo wrapped up a 4-0 week that included wins over Moorhead, Bemidji and Brainerd -- all Section 8AA teams.
“We’ve proved we’re right up there at the top with everyone else,” Partington said. “We can compete with everyone. We might not be the most talented out of all of them, but we work really hard. We get to all the balls we can, and that sets us apart from the other teams.”
The Cardinals beat the Lumberjacks by a 4-3 score that came down to Haabala needing to win a third set at fourth singles. It’s the third 4-3 win against a good team this spring after also downing section-foes Monticello and St. Cloud Tech . Brainerd is another contender in Section 8AA that the Cardinals beat by a 5-2 final after taking close individual matches.
"We know we can do it. That’s the thing. Being that we’ve been there before, our expectations are very high. Honestly, just thinking about it kind of gives me goosebumps."
- Senior Jacob Partington on the thought of getting back to a state tournament.
“If you look around, a lot of our players are multi-sport athletes,” Partington said. “We’re used to some of that pressure. I think that really plays a factor. We stay calm, and we build each other up. You can hear us during the matches, we’re talking throughout all the courts. That helps too. We have a lot of seniors with some experience, and we’ve used that to our advantage.”
Partington, Lueck, Wegner and Mulder all have experience playing in big matches after being a part of the state tournament team from 2019. They were expected to be the leaders of this group, but Alexandria would need many different players to step up if it was going to produce another big season. So far, so good on that front.
“It feels really nice because we have a lot of seniors to carry us,” Gilbertson said. “We’ve been getting a lot of good advice from those upperclassmen. Having them around us has really helped us elevate our game.”
Gilbertson teamed up with Partington at first doubles on Friday and looked like he belonged there. One would be hard pressed to know he’s a freshman by the way he aggressively put away shots. He wants to help this year and be a part of continuing to grow an Alexandria program that hopes to be consistent contenders in the section.
“We’ve seen it’s possible,” Gilbertson said. “Getting that advice from our seniors and then carrying that advice into next year, that will be huge for us.”
First things first, this year’s team has a lot left to accomplish.
“We’re very excited about the potential. We know we can do it, but we’re still trying to keep our heads straight and not get too excited,” Wegner said. “We still have half our season to go.”
Alexandria has rematches against St. Cloud Tech (May 11) on the road before hosting Bemidji (May 13) and Brainerd (May 18) at home. The Cardinals have to prove they can beat those teams a second time before heading into the postseason where they will have to do it again.
The guys back from 2019 remember exactly how exciting it was to win postseason matches in such dramatic fashion to make a state tournament for the first time in program history.
There is work left to be done, but this group is developing the same kind of camaraderie that led the Cardinals to that kind of success two years ago.
“We know we can do it. That’s the thing,” Partington said. “Being that we’ve been there before, our expectations are very high. Honestly, just thinking about it kind of gives me goosebumps...We have that same culture here this year, if not even better. We’re all just super excited for each other. Half the time, you don’t even care about your match as much as your buddy’s match down the line. That’s awesome. We have that team-first mentality, and that’s incredible this year.”
ALEXANDRIA 7, ST. CLOUD APOLLO 0
SINGLES - No. 1 - Gannon Lueck (A) def. Zach Stang, 6-1 6-0; No. 2 - Aaron Jost (A) def. Tiernan Atteberry, 6-1, 6-0; No. 3 - Pieter Mulder (A) def. Cole Sowada, 6-2, 6-0; No. 4 - Brennan Parker (A) def. Braedyn Leeb, 6-2, 6-3
DOUBLES - No. 1 - Jacob Partington/Owen Gilbertson (A) def. AJ Stang/Galaan Omar, 6-0, 6-0; No. 2 - Andrew Wegner/Dylan Nelson (A) def. Kody Duffy/Kain Swenson, 6-0, 6-0; No. 3 - Brennen Lattimer/Cole Haabala (A) won by forfeit