State Tennis: Battle tested for state's best
Litchfield wanted to be battle tested. With matches this fall against Minnewaska, Foley, Delano, Eden Prairie, Owatonna and a pair with Orono, the Dragons took every chance they could to test themselves. To prove to themselves they could play aga...
Litchfield wanted to be battle tested.
With matches this fall against Minnewaska, Foley, Delano, Eden Prairie, Owatonna and a pair with Orono, the Dragons took every chance they could to test themselves. To prove to themselves they could play against a level of competition they could eventually see at state.
"We've never really tried to focus on who we're playing but how we're playing," said Litchfield head girls' tennis coach Matt Draeger. "And we're playing well. That's what we're focusing on; playing to our ability. If we play to our ability, we can beat everybody."
A fall of sharpening iron against iron paid off when the Dragons won the Section 5A tournament for the second straight year, losing just one match through the entire bracket. Now, Litchfield has another opportunity to prove it's among Class A's best when the state tennis championship begins Tuesday at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
Experience doesn't hurt at state. It can take some of the edge off, Draeger said. But now that Litchfield is in the state hunt with a 22-1 record, there's the matter of beating Section 6A champion Osakis in the opening round before thinking of how deep this lineup can go. The match is set to start at 10 a.m.
"Our focus for last week was just on Osakis. It's a grave mistake if you look by anybody," Draeger said. "They're a team you have to beat, they do not beat themselves and they're well coached."
For some extra fine-tuning before the state meet, Litchfield scrimmaged Class AA state qualifier St. Cloud Tech during the MEA break.
"We want to try and keep our kids mentally sharp ... and to keep their competitive edge," Draeger said of the sparring session with Tech.
The third-ranked team in Class A in the final coaches' poll, Litchfield will potentially avoid the top two teams until the finals with top-rated Blake and fourth-ranked Rochester Lourdes on the opposite side of the bracket. But with 10th-ranked Osakis in the quarterfinals and sixth-ranked St. James as a possible semifinal match, Draeger looks at the opener not as a favorite, but as a 50-50 proposition.
"You've just got to play to your ability level," Draeger said. "That's the goal of any team, that you can play loose and free and compete at a high level and stay mentally in the match and don't let outside influences affect what's going on. It's a different atmosphere (at state) and you have to be able to block that out and focus on the task at hand."
After a season of strengthening itself up for this moment, Litchfield is battle ready for any team standing across the court.
"The goal is to play your best and give yourself a chance and that's what we're going to concentrate on," Draeger said. "I tell the kids to worry about you, play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses and we'll see what happens."
Class A state girls' tennis tournament
At Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center, Minneapolis
Tuesday, Oct. 23
St. James vs. East Grand Forks, 8 a.m.
Litchfield vs. Osakis, 10 a.m.
Rochester Lourdes vs. Jordan, noon
Blake vs. Virginia, 2 p.m.
Championship quarterfinals losers, 4 p.m.; 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 24
Championship quarterfinals winners, 8 a.m.; 10 a.m.
Consolation semifinals winners, noon
Championship semifinals losers, 2 p.m.
Championship semifinals winners, 4 p.m.