Lourdes, Mayo girls tennis coaches knew this could be a special year
The Mayo girls tennis team is considered a top-three team in Class AA, while Lourdes is ranked No. 2 in Class A.
ROCHESTER — Jeff Demaray and Ben Maes both entered this season believing their girls' tennis teams had a legitimate chance of winning a state championship.
Eight weeks later and heading into their section tournaments this week, the respective head coaches — Demaray at Mayo, Maes at Lourdes (his first year there) — still like their teams’ chances. Mayo is regarded as likely the third best team in Class AA and Lourdes the second best in Class A. Both teams are 14-3.
But as much as a state title remains on their minds, neither wants their season defined by what happens at state, presuming they get there.
Here are both of their takes as they head into the postseason.
Post Bulletin: What was on your mind those first few practices, knowing you had lots of talent in front of you?
Maes: The first couple of weeks, my main thing was that I was trying to get to know the girls. I knew four or five of them (Maes is a tennis teaching professional at the Rochester Athletic Club), but otherwise I hadn’t seen them play before. The first challenge was to get to know them and to try to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to find out how I could make a team out of them. So I did some research about how they played last year, looked at the results and went from there.
Demaray: I think that certainly over the last 20 years at Mayo there have been teams that I’ve felt had a real opportunity to win a state title (the Mayo girls have yet to win one). And there are others where your goal is to get to state, and then just try to do the best you can. But we have a very talented team this year. We are striving to take it one match at a time. But our goals are very high. We want to win a section championship and then a state championship. We have a very young team but a team where most of our players have played in state tournaments. Even though they are young, they are experienced.
PB: What are some specific things you’ve done to try to bring your team up a notch?
Maes: During the season, I’ve tried different (doubles) matchups to see how people perform together. That took a couple of weeks and we took some losses that probably could have been avoidable. But that is why you play a regular season, to try to play at your best in the section and state tournaments. With our No. 2 and 3 doubles, I felt early in the year that they had no confidence in themselves. But what I wanted to hammer home is that everyone on this team matters. I wanted them to walk on the court thinking that they could win this. And they have since done a good job with that and the results are there.
Demaray: Mainly, we’ve been doing the same drills that we’ve always done, for years. I do the doubles teaching, showing them how to close things out at the net. In singles, we’re working on getting points in transition. But I am a firm believer that section and state tournaments are won in the offseason (since 1997, Mayo has reached state every year but once). We are blessed to have two great tennis clubs in town that teach lessons and have great pros. They are working with our players most of the year. We get them just 10 weeks during the season and six weeks during the summer when we do our doubles camp. But I daydream a lot about matchups. A lot of times, when teams are close in ability, it comes down to one or two points. Your team is favored in a couple of spots and their team is favored in a couple. It’s getting those three or four other points that will be the difference. So I look at our lineups and the other teams’ lineups, and then we do the best we can for our team (in switching lineups around for specific matches). I always put a lot of time into those lineups. I want to do what’s ethical, but I can move people around as long as it’s fair.
PB: Is there anything you’ve wanted to make sure you’ve gotten through to your team this season?
Maes: I told them at the beginning of the season that the only thing I care about is that they give 110-percent effort in the match. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on that they have to win. If you walk off the court and you’ve lost but can look in the mirror and say that you did whatever you could, then you’ve won. That is the story of life. Try your best and good things will happen.
Demaray: I want our girls to take it one match at a time. We don’t want to overlook any team. We are trying to improve every day. When you lose 4-3 to the No. 1-ranked team in the state (Minnetonka, on Wednesday, Sept. 28), and you’d lost to them 5-2 earlier in the season, (you have improved). We are right there. It just comes down to how you play that day.
PB: How do you judge if your season has been a good one or not?
Maes: I think we’ve already had a good season. That’s because everyone on the team feels a part of the team. And I’m not just thinking about this year, but looking ahead to next year. We want these kids to keep playing and I’m looking further than state. I want these kids to have a good time. It’s been a great season when the season is done and these kids still want to continue to play.
Demaray: I think the most important part is that all the players are having fun and that hopefully they are growing as tennis players and people. A big part of Mayo tennis is learning life lessons and that hopefully they become better people. And we look at results, too. We always want to get to the state tournament and win it — that is our ultimate goal. We think that is possible this season.