A different tennis deal, with Schaeffer — not Lourdes — the favorite to advance to state
Schaeffer Academy, by far the smallest school in Section 1A, is favored to advance to the state boys tennis tournament this year.
ROCHESTER — This is different, and one portion is actually unheard of.
The “different” part is that the Lourdes boys tennis team is not favored to win the Section 1A tennis tournament which begins with quarterfinals on Thursday and ends Tuesday. It can be counted on one hand how many times that has happened in the 2000s for the 15-time defending section champions. The “unheard of” portion is that Schaeffer Academy happens to be the favored one.
If the latter comes to fruition and the No. 2-ranked Lions are crowned champions on Tuesday at the Rochester Athletic Club, not only will it be their first section tennis championship, but their first section title in any sport.
Section champions advance to state, something that Schaeffer has never done.
The Lions enter the seven-team Section 1A tournament with a 9-2 record, a 4-3 regular-season win over Lourdes in their back pocket and filled with confidence and purpose.
They are also well aware that the 4-3 win over Lourdes guarantees nothing.
“Nothing has been solidified by having beaten them,” said Schaeffer Academy coach Kady Monson, whose team receives a first-round bye. “We do know now that we can compete with them, but this is going to be tough no matter what.”
Simply getting to the championship match is no guarantee for either team. That’s despite Schaeffer and No. 5-ranked Lourdes being the obvious respective No. 1 and 2 seeds. Lourdes coach Steve Tacl considers at least four teams to have a shot at winning the section, the other two Lake City and Winona Cotter, with Red Wing a slightly deeper dark horse.
Neither 9-2 Schaeffer, which includes a handful of girls on its team, nor Cotter (an uncharacteristic 7-10) have lost to any of those three teams this season. But there have been some 5-2 scores mixed in against them, suggesting that beating them has been no cinch.
Lake City is the No. 3 seed, Cotter the No. 4 and Red Wing the No. 5.
Tacl gave particular respect to Cotter.
“Winona Cotter is dangerous,” Tacl said. “They have some guys at the top of their lineup who can play.”
This has been a different season for Lourdes, which was expected. The Eagles graduated six standout players from a team that finished third at state a year ago. The result has been that uncharacteristic losing record and the rare circumstance of them not being favored in the section tournament. The Eagles are brimming with youth and inexperience.
Still, that's made this an intriguing season for Tacl and a fun challenge.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids who’d never played on the varsity before,” Tacl said. “But those guys have gotten better and more comfortable with everything. It’s been good and I feel like we’re trending in the right direction.”
Tacl likes his team’s chances despite its record and its previous narrow loss to Schaeffer. It’s been his focus to get his players ready to play at their best right now, another state tournament trip on the line.
“We have a bunch of teams in the section who are really close (in ability),” Tacl said. “That means whoever plays the big points better is going to succeed. Right now, we are looking for every little edge we can get. It’s about being prepared and ready for these moments. We are just trying to do things that set them up for being successful.”
Monson, whose family is moving to Ohio this summer, is emphasizing what she has preached all season. It’s that whatever happens in this tournament, or any competition ever, it won’t define her players.
Simply, she wants them to enjoy it and play freely.