The South Dakota Boys’ State Tennis Tournament has been been a pretty predictable affair the last four years with Sioux Falls Lincoln a prohibitive favorite going in, and a four-time state champion coming out.
The excitement of an up-for-grabs title chase should return this weekend when state tournament play begins on Thursday at the Sioux Park and Parkview tennis courts in Rapid City.
“There are probably seven teams that have title aspirations going into the state tournament, and who wins the title could very well come down to the final match,” Rapid City Stevens coach Jason Olson said. “Besides the usual title contenders, there are a lot of other teams like Madison and Yankton and Harrisburg with good kids, individuals who could impact the final outcome.”
Sioux Falls Lincoln won’t go down easily despite losing three-time state champion Kaleb Dobbs and four of the top players from a 2017 squad that captured five of six singles crowns and claimed all three doubles titles.
“It will be a lot tighter state tournament. We were a lot more dominant last year and this year there are a lot of teams that will be fighting for the championship,” Lincoln coach Tom Krueger explained. “Our number two player was our number eight player last year, and we have brand new players at five and six, so with that, we should be happy that we are still in the hunt this year.”
Krueger perhaps doth protest too much: the Patriots return the state’s top-ranked player — Kaleb’s younger brother, Sam, a two time state titlist at No. 2 singles, who will be vying for his first flight one trophy. Lincoln also has considerable strength in the lower flights, including undefeated Gavin Schmit (21-0) at No. 6 singles.
Olson’s Stevens’ team, runner-up in 2017, will be seeking the school’s first state title since a three-peat (2006-08). The Raiders have balance throughout the lineup and should contend in virtually every flight. Freshman Jamison Pfingston (19-5 on the season) has had an excellent season at No. 1, and senior Ben Anderson (24-1) at No. 3 looks to improve upon a runner-up finish at No. 4 in 2017. Another freshman, Michael Tang (23-2), will contend at No. 4 singles. And sophomore Dawson Segrist, the defending state champion at No. 6, sports an undefeated 27-0 record at flight 5.
“We are right there,” Olson said. “We lost 5-4 to the top two teams in the state, and almost all were close matches, so we know we can play with anybody. We played all four of the Sioux Falls schools last weekend, and that’s not easy. And I think playing those four matches last weekend, more than anybody else did, helped prepare us for the tournament. Sam Dobbs is by far the favorite at No. 1, but in every other flight there are probably three or four kids who could win.”
Perennial powerhouse, Sioux Falls O’Gorman will certainly be in the mix come Saturday afternoon as the Knights return all but one player from last year’s fourth-place team (Sioux Falls Washington claimed third spot). The Knights split two matches with Lincoln this season, each dual won by a 5-4 margin.
“Lincoln is a slight favorite, but there are four teams other teams that are pretty solid,” said Don Barnes, who will be attending his 32nd state tournament as O’Gorman mentor. “Aberdeen Roncalli, Stevens as always, and Roosevelt is in there, too. And then you have teams like Washington, who have kids in three or four flights that can do some damage.”
Coach Andy Shaw’s St. Thomas More squad, ninth last season, will need solid performances from seniors Nick Lust (14-8 at No. 1), Will Raymond (15-7, No. 2) and Jake Berzina (12-9, No. 3) to improve upon that outcome.
“We are looking forward to state because it will be the final opportunity for our four seniors, and a new experience for our younger players. I've been praying for an incredible memory to happen for these guy,” Shaw said. “"It's a very deep field at the top with Lincoln, Stevens and O'Gorman. But, there are some other teams that are right there, and can make a run as well. It will be a fun few days to see how it pans out."
Rapid City Central will need some upsets to improve upon last year’s 21st place finish. Seniors Jaxon Thorson (6-12 at No. 2) and Tyler Eberle (9-10, No. 6) are likely the Cobbler’s best bets to do so.
“Statistically, Jaxon Thorson and Tyler Eberle achieved the most victories this year on the varsity squad,” Central coach Andrew Ley said. “Their mental toughness, coupled with past experience on behalf of the whole varsity team, will guide the Cobblers team to high-level of competition this state tournament.”
State tournament play opens at 8 a.m. on Thursday at both the Sioux Park and Parkview facilities. Action in flights 1-3 will be centered at Sioux Park and flight 4-6 play at Parkview. A similar schedule (8 a.m. starts) will be followed on Friday.
On Saturday, all of the matches will be contested at Sioux Park kicking off with the championship singles semifinals at 8 a.m. and singles championship matches at 10:15 with the doubles finals to follow.