Cloquet eighth-grader shines at sections
June 3, 2022
Eighth-grader Ethan Lavan played at Cloquet's No. 1 singles player this season, and the youngster didn't disappoint.
Lavan took third place in the individual Section 7A tournament, missing a trip to state by one place. He was the only middle school student in the tournament to make it to the semifinals.
Coach Derek Johnson said Lavan did a good job at No. 1, and his youthful appearance was an advantage in some cases.
"A lot of 1 singles players are juniors or seniors so when they see 'Little E' out on the court - before he even hits a ball - those kids are thinking that the match will be easy," Johnson said. "But Ethan is a player. He wears out his opponent by his consistent play. He gets a lot of tennis balls back. It's frustrating to play against him as an opponent."
A lot of players will get impatient and make unforced errors on him, Johnson added. Lavan is a smart player and can take advantage of that, he continued.
"He knows what shot to hit, where to hit it and at what moment to hit it," Johnson said. "Ethan won't overpower any kids just being in eighth grade, but these next four years, when he puts on some muscle, he will develop that power in his shot and will be tough to beat."
Sam Bailey was the other Cloquet player in the individual playoffs. He won his first match over Josh Stanley of Aitkin 6-3, 6-3, but fell to Jared Delich of Rock Ridge 6-0, 6-1, who ultimately finished in first place.
Lavan had a bye in the first round, then defeated Zander Peterson of Aitkin 6-0, 6-4 in the second round before falling to Gavin Benz of Rock Ridge 6-0, 6-1. Benz finished in second place to advance to state.
The top two individual players in 7A were both from Rock Ridge and can play on indoor tennis courts in Virginia. The ability to play or practice inside when there is snow or rain - both an issue in April this year - is definitely an advantage for players.
Lavan said he was "a little surprised" by his third-place finish. He credited a lot of practice over the past eight years.
"I did a lot of practice off season with players that are around my skill level; that helped me a lot," he said.
He said he watches the professionals, and while he doesn't have a favorite player, he watches them and will try to master certain elements, such as Novak Djokovic's footwork while serving.
Lavan also credited his mom, Jessica Woodward, and his coaches for helping him through the semifinal match. "Mom showed me videos of chickens (to calm down), and my coaches just never give up on me," he said, referring to Johnson and assistant coach Tom Proulx. He also thanked his teammates for supporting him, especially captain Logan Beck.
Coach Johnson said the team did well this season, considering the weather this spring.
"We definitely had more matches than practices, which is tough for first- and second-year players. You see some mistakes during a match that you make a mental note to work on in the next practice, but then I realize we have three more matches before our next practice, so it was tough."
In addition to saying how proud he was of Lavan, Johnson said Bailey made huge strides in his second year of playing, starting at No. 4 singles and finishing at No. 2. Ninth-grader Max Sundquist also made improvements this season in doubles. "He loves being at the net, which is crucial in doubles. Max played 1 doubles with Logan Beck for the majority of the season."
The Lumberjacks will lose six seniors to graduation, four who played varsity consistently.
"All those seniors will be missed," Johnson said.
Lavan said it was fun to play with the seniors, but he enjoyed playing with the 20-some seventh- and eighth-graders that came out for the team too.
Next year, Johnson expects to have one senior and one junior returning; the rest will be sophomores and younger.
"For the guys coming back, they know the importance of playing this summer," Johnson said. "If the younger guys can call up each other and play in the off season, it'll be fun to watch them develop their game over the years."
As for Lavan, he will be playing on the Longview Tennis Club's Junior Team in Duluth, which travels around the state, guaranteeing him some tough competition.
"My goal for next year is to come in at least second so I can get to state," Lavan said.