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Cavaliers ready for tennis season

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Gray Imbery returns a volley during practice at the Northern State University tennis courts. Photo by John Davis taken 4/1/2021

Each spring the Aberdeen Roncalli tennis team heads to the courts with snow shovels in hand prepared to clean off the surface on the opening day of practice. That ritual did not place this year, though.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a year where we didn’t start out shoveling,” said Roncalli Coach JD Carrels. “For me, I loved it. I know the kids loved it. I know I’ve usually used those first few days of shoveling as conditioning, so I had to come up with a few different conditioning drills for them.”

As a result, the Cavaliers are a bit ahead of schedule.

“It was definitely great that they were able to hit and get the rust off just from not playing for a while,” Carrels said. “Definitely got a little head start in the prep. I think we are in a very good spot to start the season.”

Like everyone else, Roncalli is coming off an idle year because of COVID. Carrels is still trying to fit all the pieces together, but knows he had two returning leaders in seniors Gray Imbery and Jackson Henrich.

“It will definitely be an interesting season, because pretty much everyone took a two-year break,” Carrels said. “You can definitely see that with some of the kids.”

Carrels is excited about a talented group of young players coming up. He said they have matured physically and also as players.

“We’ve got a great group of eighth-graders. It would have been great for them to come out last year. They’re so young, so it would have been great to have them get some varsity-level experience, Carrels said. “I think I was taller than all of them two years ago and now I think I’m shorter than all of them. They all have definitely matured. You can definitely see that in the skills that they have.”

That is where Imbery and Henrich will be counted on to play a key role.

“It will be an interesting year because we have a lot of young kids, but we’ll definitely be leaning on Gray and Jackson for the varsity experience,” Carrels said, “especially in kind of helping along these players that don’t have any of that, not only the physical aspects that goes with playing at the varsity level, but also the mental aspects, which is almost just as big.”

Carrels said there is a night and day difference between playing at the middle school level and the varsity level.

Imbery played number three singles for the Cavaliers two years ago, while Henrich played a little bit of everything.

“He spent more time playing varsity than he did exhibition,” Carrels said of Henrich. “He got experience playing every single position. He played every flight except for number three.”

The Cavaliers should be bolstered by the addition of junior Mason Carrels who is in his first year on the team, but brings athleticism and a knowledge of the game.

“I can tell that he went out and hit this past winter. The game isn’t brand new to him,” Coach Carrels said. “He’s definitely got some form and some baseline skills that are there. He’s an athletic kid. That’s something as a coach that you always kind of look for.”

This year will mark the first year of a two-class system for boys’ tennis. The girls’ teams have used it for two years already because they play in the fall.

“I think it’s great because I think the plan to have the two-class system was to encourage more schools to implement tennis. We are seeing some schools that have reached out and are thinking of adding programs,” Coach Carrels said. “I think that was kind of the main goal in it. We had so many schools in boys’ tennis, we basically had to decide to either go to a two-class system or you had qualify to go to state.”

The Cavaliers have taken advantage of the nice weather to get in physical shape. Now, it’s just a matter of adding the mental component when they step out on the court. “I think we’re going to be strong mentally at the top. It’s going to be interesting to see how those younger guys respond to that pressure of actually playing varsity matches,” Coach Carrels said. “More than anything, it’s going to be kind of up in the air with how we handle the mental aspect of each match.”

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