The top of the team leaderboard has been a familiar spot for the Rapid City Stevens boys' tennis teams over the last 20 years with three state title and 10 second-place finishes during that span, including back-to-back runners-up trophies the past two seasons behind five-time champion Sioux Falls Lincoln.
Hopes of a top-two finish in this weekend’s 2019 Boys State Tennis Tournament in Sioux Falls may be a bit of a stretch, according to Raider coach Jason Olson.
“My top three are as good as anybody in the state. They are great kids and good leaders,” Olson said. “But we don’t have the depth after that like we’ve had in previous years. And we missed so many days. We missed like 16 days of tennis this year. With missed matches and practices, we are not at all where I would like to be right now. For a while I thought we would be better than I had expected, but we kind of regressed a little bit last weekend (the Raiders dropped dual matches to Sioux Falls Lincoln, O’Gorman and Washington).”
Sophomore Jamison Pfingston is 14-3 on season and the third seed in Flight 1 singles, while classmate Michael Tang (17-3, 4th seed) mans the No. 2 singles spot. Junior Dawson Segrist, (21-1, 2nd seed) the 2018 flight 5 singles champ, is slotted at No. 3 singles.
Not surprisingly, Tom Krueger’s Lincoln squad will carry the favorite’s role into the 88th annual tournament as the Patriots look to win a sixth consecutive state title.
As if returning three state champions — senior Sam Dobbs (16-0, and top-seeded in Flight 1), junior Rahul Giri (19-0, state titlist at No. 4 last year top-seeded in flight two), sophomore Gavin Schmitt (18-1 and defending champion in flight six) —t he Patriots will feature three players with undefeated regular season records, and as a team have lost only five singles matches all season.
“Actually, we are probably a little bit better this season than I imagined,” Krueger said. "I was expecting maybe a few more losses along the way in individual matches, but we hung in there really well, so I’ve been pleased. Most of the top teams have a good two, three or four solid players, but after that they are not as strong so it makes a difference when you have strength all the way down at the bottom.”
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A one team dominated, lob-sided affair? Possibly not.
“O’Gorman can play with them,” Olson said when assessing the 24-team field. “They lost a couple 6-3 duals, but the matches were competitive and they match up with Lincoln in a lot of spots. There are other teams that can compete with them in spots, and we can compete with them in Flight 1, two, three singles and No. 1 doubles for sure. Team wise right now, I would rank it Lincoln one, O’Gorman two, Washington three and then BV, and then, us, Yankton, Mitchell, Roncalli all in the five boat. Things would have to really well for us to finish in the top four.
Veteran O’Gorman coach Don Barnes — 30 some years and counting — entertains hope of disrupting another Lincoln victory parade as well.
“We kind of flip-flopped the second time we played them as well. We lost at some spots we had won in the first dual and vice-versa so we have battled them very close,” Barnes said. “Everybody has to compete at their best for us to win. But it is a state tournament and with that all bets are off. State tournaments are a different animal that duals. That’s where the nerves can suddenly appear and you never know. Washington has had some injury problems but they are solid, and Brandon Valley and Yankton have a bunch of seniors so it should be fun.”
Other area teams in action this weekend include Rapid City Central, St. Thomas More, Rapid City Christian and Spearfish. Sophomore Thomas Postma (16-7, 10th seeded in Flight 1 singles) and junior David Greni (20-5, 7th seeded in flight 2 singles) lead Rapid City Christian. Pacey Nelson and Dylan Peterson, Flight 1 and two respectively, head up the Cobbler contingent while 8th grader Sam Mortimer and sophomore Rowan Evans man the top two spots for St. Thomas More.
State tournament play in Sioux Falls commences on Thursday at McKennan Park, Sioux Falls Washington and Brandon Valley. First round singles matches begin at 7 a.m. (MDT) with Flights 1 and 2 singles at McKennan Park, Flights 3 and 4 singles at Sioux Falls Washington and Flights 5 and 6 Singles at Brandon Valley. Doubles matches will start at 12:45 p.m. with Flight 1 at McKennan Park, Flight 2 at Sioux Falls Washington and Flight 3 at Brandon Valley.
Action continues through Saturday.