By MIKE KASNER
FOR THE PIONEER
When the Spartans beat Eden Prairie 4-3 last month it was a satisfying victory. However, Coach Tim Arnold knew that the Eagles’ best player, two-time-defending AA doubles champion Carter Mason sat out that day due to injury. That win secured home court advantage at Sections for the Spartans, but beating them again would be a pretty tall order.
Last month, Spartan No. 2 singles player John Kasner was the deciding match on court and prevailed in a three set marathon over senior Mukund Venkateswaran. Kasner went from last match done, to first match done beating Venkateswaran 6-2, 6-0 in one of his cleanest matches of the year. He would be able to return the favor of cheering for his teammates after giving the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
The match at No. 1 singles featured two of the state’s top ten players in Class AA, Spartan Conner Olsen (#4) and Mason (#10).
Mason will be playing college at Hastings College in Nebraska which just competed in the NAIA National Championships in Alabama last week as one of the NAIA division’s top 24 teams. Mason was no match for Olsen.
The match featured a very high level of play from both players, but Olsen won all the big points and showed the distance between a No. 4 and a No. 10 ranking. Olsen won 6-1, 6-1 and the Spartans were up 2-0.
The attention of the match then turned to the doubles.
Coach Arnold had been working hard in the last three weeks of the season to identify his three strongest teams heading into sectional play and his teams had some better chemistry against Eden Prairie. The Spartans had been swept in the earlier match and had won only one set that day.
Arnold paired senior captain Robbie Leslie with fellow Spartan hockey player Tyler Olsen at No. 1 and they competed well, winning the middle set before falling 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Senior Calvin Goodyear was paired with seventh grader Matias Maule at No. 2 doubles and they won the first set before falling 2-6, 6-1, and 6-3 against a strong Eagles pair.
The match score was now 2-2 and the Spartans had dropped the first set in both of the remaining singles matches giving the Eagles the edge as the match headed into the third hour of play. The Spartans No. 3 doubles team had won the first set and were very close in the second set.
Spartan third singles player, Cade Pfeiffer faced Mike Leiter who is ranked in the top-50 singles players in Minnesota as ranked by the United States Tennis Association. Leiter plays a slow pace game with a lot of dinks and slice spin which makes finding a rhythm difficult.
Pfeiffer dropped the first set 6-2, but stayed persistent and won the second set 6-4. The third set was close and Pfeiffer had a match point at 5-4 but Leiter forced the match into a tiebreaker at 6-6. Pfeiffer jumped out to a quick lead in the tiebreaker and won the tiebreaker 7-3 to give the Spartans a 3-2 lead.
The match at fourth singles pitted Emmett Halloran against Eden Prairie’s Tyler DeBoer. DeBoer won the first set 6-3 and was ahead in the second set. The Eagle displayed some expressive language skills that not only got his coach’s attention, but reminded us of the great Jimmy Connors quote that “tennis is like boxing at 90 feet.”
The match displayed the most competitive intensity of the day and Halloran was able to get himself into a second set tiebreaker, which he won 7-3. Halloran picked up his game measurably in the third set and raced to a quick 5-1 lead, before battling his nerves a little. He steadied himself and closed out the match 6-4 sending his teammates into frenzy over the match-clinching win.
Meanwhile, the No. 3 doubles duo, “the Ivy’s,” Alex Berger and Andy Baran were deep into the third set as it approached 7 p.m.
The team played solidly all day and was able to close out their Eagle opponents with a 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win to finish the 5-2 win for Orono.
Coach Arnold was pleased with his team’s performance and the opportunity to face the number No. 1 seed in the south of Section 2AA, Prior Lake at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
“We played really well today top to bottom and won three very gritty matches. The gritty wins are the ones that will help the team in its development,” Arnold said. “We are going to have to win a few more like that to keep this party going.”