Mustangs ride doubles success to state title

If Mike Cartwright could get the change approved, he would switch the format for prep tennis in Minnesota to four doubles matches and three singles instead of the current four singles and three doubles. Cartwright, the boys tennis coach at Mounds View High School, has developed quite a dominant doubles lineup in recent years and that formula helped the Mustangs win a title last week.

Mounds View didn't lose a set in doubles matches en route to the Class AA team state championship last week. The Mustangs beat Cretin-Derham Hall, Rochester Century and Elk River to claim their first championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.

"I keep pushing the state high school league to have four doubles and three singles," Cartwright said with a grin following the title-clinching victory over Elk River. "That’s my dream lineup."

The three doubles teams combined to lose only 30 games over their three state-tournament matches. That averages out to less than two lost games per set. Senior captain Carter Jones was one of those doubles players and he said that doubles has become the focus.

"We were hoping to get out to a fast start and get the doubles points," Jones said. "We really focus on doubles in all of our matches."

Jones and his partner Abraham Alex played No. 1 doubles through most of the season. Mounds View's second doubles team consisted of Sam Hohenshell and Michael Conlin-Brandenburg and the No. 3 doubles duo was Andrew Tang and Michael Cao.

In the finals, all three doubles teams wrapped up their victories before any of the singles matches were completed. That left Mounds View in need of just one more point. If Cartwright had his way, a match could end with only doubles victories but since that format has yet to be adopted, the Mustangs still needed a singles victory.

They got it from eighth-grader Petro Alex, Abraham’s younger brother. He clinched the championship with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Zeke Delain at four singles.

"Coming down to the wire, we had absolute faith in Petro at four singles," said Jones. "We knew he’d come through for us in the end."

Petro's victory was the only singles win Mounds View would get against Elk River but in the first two rounds, Hunter Krebsbach at two singles and Hunter Heck at No. 3 won their matches in straight sets. Jake Trondson, playing at No. 1 singles, failed to win a match in the team tournament but he was battling illness.

Winning the state title was in direct contrast to what happened to Mounds View a year ago at state. Like this year, the Mustangs were the No. 1-ranked team in the state entering the state tournament but their run to a championship was derailed. Unseeded East Ridge upset Mounds View in the quarterfinals.

Cartwright said the disappointment of 2014 was always fresh in the players' minds.

"It was talked about throughout the entire season," Cartwright said. "They learned a lot from that. East Ridge beat us, they deserved to beat us but we were not as ready for them as we should have been. These guys were not going to let that happen again."

When the draw for this year’s tournament came out, once again Mounds View was faced with playing a Suburban East Conference rival in the first round. This time around it was Cretin-Derham Hall but the Mustangs were ready. They bounced the Raiders 6-1.

In the semifinals, it was fifth-seeded Rochester Century that awaited Mounds View and again the Mustangs rolled to a 6-1 victory. That set up a championship date with Elk River, a team Cartwright knew his squad couldn’t take lightly even though the Elks were unseeded.

"I voted for Elk River to be seeded," said Cartwright. "I thought they should have been seeded. I would have put them maybe fourth."

Elk River upset second-seeded East Ridge in the quarterfinals and third-seeded Minnetonka in the semifinals. Entering the finals, the Elks rearranged their lineup in order to go after the singles points. Three Elks who played singles in the first two rounds were moved to doubles and replaced by players who were in doubles matches in the first two rounds.

The strategy almost worked but for the No. 4 singles match.

"It was a little more nerve-wracking than we wanted but with the end result we were all pretty happy," Jones said. "We all worked together really hard to get to this point. It’s an honor to be taking home the first-place trophy."

Individual tournament

With the team championship wrapped up, four Mustangs returned for the final two days of the tournament. Trondson, Krebsbach, Jones and Abraham Alex played in the individual portion of the state tournament.

Playing in the singles draw, Trondson and Krebsbach each went 0-2.

In the doubles tournament, Alex and Jones lost in the first round and then won twice to reach the consolation final. In the final, they lost a three-set match to Justin Yee and Maxwell Parkinson of Lakeville North.

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com†or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

 

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