Boys tennis: Litchfield's Alex Draeger has some unfinished business
The 5th-ranked senior in the state, he hopes to help the Dragons win a state Class A team title
LITCHFIELD — Alex Draeger recollected Litchfield's loss to Breck in the 2022 Class A state quarterfinals with a long, big grin on his face.
With the team scores knotted at 3-3 and one match remaining to decide which team advances to the state semifinals, Breck's No. 1 singles player Zach Piehl defeated Draeger in three sets.
It is a match that Draeger would like to have back as the Mustangs went onto finish as the Class A runner-ups behind St. Paul Academy. Litchfield finished as the Class A consolation champion, defeating Minnewaska/Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
"That one stings a little bit," Draeger said. "We're right there with those private schools, which are normally what you like to compare yourself to.
"We have depth and we got some guys at the top that can make things happen. We're just trying to get back and hopefully we can finish better than we did last year. It's definitely within the realm of possibility."
Draeger returns to a Litchfield team that ranks No. 5 in the Class A rankings by the Minnesota Tennis Coaches Association. St. Paul Academy, Breck and Rochester Lourdes are the top-three ranked teams. Then there is Rock Ridge at No. 4.
With postponements due to inclement weather, the Dragons have been able to squeeze in four matches this spring.
Litchfield is 4-0 with wins over Mora, Hutchinson, Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg and Holy Family.
"As a team, the goal is always to get to the state tournament," Litchfield head coach John Carlson said. "When you have six seniors in your lineup, that gives you a legitimate shot."
Leading the veteran core for the Dragons is Draeger, one of the six seniors. He will serve as Litchfield's No. 1 singles player — a spot he has held since he was in eighth grade.
Draeger is ranked No. 5 in the Class A individual rankings.
Draeger is 3-1 in his matches this season and is 1-1 against top-10 state ranked opponents. He lost his season-opening match to Mora's Max Sampson, who ranks No. 4, in two sets and defeated Holy Family's Michael Frost, who ranks No. 8, in three sets.
"(Coach Carlson) schedules some matches so I can specifically get real good competition because come state tournament time — if you're not battle-tested — all of a sudden you get there and you run the gauntlet," Draeger said. "Every one singles player you run into there is ranked and if you're not prepared for that and you don't see that a a lot during the year, it can be a real struggle."
Draeger has also reached the Class A doubles state tournament the previous two seasons. He took third place with Tyson Michels in 2021 and finished as the consolation runner-up with Braden Olson in 2022.
It is safe to say Draeger and Olson, another senior for the Dragons, have some unfinished business. The duo will run it back and try for a Class A doubles title this season.
"Me and Braden have been best friends for a long time and we've hit a lot during the summers," Draeger said. "We joke around with each other in practice and we push each other in practice. In doubles, chemistry with your partner is so important. Me and Braden probably have the best of that and he's a good tennis player too."
Whether or not Draeger and Olson also qualify for the Class A doubles tournament, Carlson and Draeger recognize the importance of the putting the team's success first and foremost.
"I think he feels him and Braden have a legitimate shot to do some damage at the state tournament. I know that's one of Alex's goals," Carlson said. "As a coach and as a leader of our team — Alex — we both feel it's important for our program to do whatever we can to qualify for the state tournament as a team, also."
But as Draeger's high school tennis chapter comes to a close this spring, a new one will shortly begin in college.
Draeger plans to attend St. Johns University. He will play tennis there and has hopes of helping out the Johnnies basketball program with an intention to study computer science.