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Boys tennis: New courts, new season, opening win

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys tennis team was all smiles on Tuesday as the team competed for the first time on the new high school tennis courts.

"Everyone was so excited and thrilled with the new facility," said CEC coach Derek Johnson. "With snow last week we just didn't know if we'd get to open today, but we were able to open and they were able to get some of the bleachers in, so it really made for a fantastic night."

The new Members Cooperative Credit Union athletic complex features eight courts as opposed to the old four. Because of the increased capacity, matches will take about half the time as in the past, allowing visiting teams time to travel back home and not be on the road until late in the evening on school nights.

Tuesday's matches saw the Lumberjacks rally to win all three doubles matches to go along with a win at No. 1 singles as they eked out a 4-3 win over the Hawks.

"It was a great way to open the home season," Johnson said.

CEC's lone singles win came at No. 1 singles, in which sophomore Ethan Lavan took a 6-0, 6-0 win over Ben Kangas of Hermantown. Lavan is 2-0 on the season

"Ethan is just taking up where he left off last season after he made the state tournament as a freshman," Johnson said. "He worked very hard [last] summer and now he's added a lot of pace to his game as well as a stronger backhand."

A survey of several players showed a unanimous love for the new courts, in part because they don't have to travel to other courts for practice or matches,

"Playing on the new courts connects us as a team, we all get to play together and cheer each other on," said Tommy Radosevich.

"Plus the added efficiency of having eight matches going at once is awesome," added Devin Cary.

Lavan and Chris Stoltzfus said they don't miss the cracks in the old courts and worrying about an unexpected bounce. Players also agreed that the new courts are much better for the fans to watch because there's a nice area in the middle with bleachers.

"With the new courts, the families can watch all the matches simultaneously and there aren't wind breakers blocking their view," Lavan said.

Stoltzfus said having the fans inside the courts "added to the competitiveness" of the matches.

CEC trailed 3-1 after the singles matches Tuesday, but reeled off three straight wins in doubles starting with the No. 1 doubles team of senior Ethan Doty and junior Max Sundquist, who took a 6-2, 6-1 win over Brody Mathews and Jace Christy.

"Ethan and Max played together a lot last year, but did not play together in our first road match this year at Rock Ridge," Johnson said. "I told them 'the Dream Team' is back together."

At No. 2 doubles, the CEC brother duo of Noah Bender and Joey Bender notched a 6-2, 6-2 win over Nayan Watson and Keaton Rother.

"In the middle of last year, we decided to put them together but we didn't know what to expect," said Johnson of the Bender brothers. "They seem to start slow so we're always trying to light a fire under them, but then they seem to get going and they played well."

The 'Jacks solidified the win when the No. 3 doubles team of Marco Zegan and Sam Painter downed Zach Shingler and Evan Flynn 6-0, 6-4.

"I was really impressed with how they came out strong and took that first set 6-0," said Johnson. "Marco has played a lot of singles in the past for us, but I was just very impressed with how he and Sam played together."

In other singles matches, CEC's Devin Cary fell 6-0, 6-0 to Ford Skytta at No. 2 singles. The Lumberjacks' Tommy Radosevich fell 4-6, 6-3, 10-8 in a tough No. 3 match against Gabe Swenson. At No. 4 singles, Wesley Olson dropped a 6-3, 6-3 decision to Preston McClinex.

As Johnson was wrapping up, he took time to ponder the first day in a beautiful new complex.

"It was just a good moment," Johnson said. "I was just reflecting about where we were a year ago and where we are at now, and it made me smile. We still have some more bleachers to put out, but this facility is awesome and beautiful, and we are proud to play in it."

Last week, the 'Jacks fell 6-1 in their opener on the road in Virginia at Rock Ridge, with the lone CEC win coming at No. 1 singles by Lavan.

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