Doubles team pulls through for Eagan
Mannetter, Finnegan win 3-set match in state tennis opener
Eagan found itself matched against the defending champion at the state Class AA boys tennis tournament, and the people bothered least by that seemed to be the Wildcats themselves.
Just play the way you did in the section final, coach Scott Nichols told his players, and you’ll be fine.
That was easier in theory than in practice, but it turned out Nichols was right. The Wildcats edged Rochester Mayo 4-3, with Dylan Mannetter and Andrew Finnegan winning a decisive three-set match at second doubles, in the state team quarterfinals Tuesday at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center.
Eagan (16-3) will play Wayzata, a 4-3 winner over Eden Prairie in the first round, in the semifinals at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The winner will play for the championship at 4 p.m., with the loser going to the third-place match at 2 p.m.
With the first hurdle cleared, Eagan went into the second day of the team competition believing it had a realistic chance to win.
“We beat Mayo in the state tournament two years ago, but we’re a lot deeper now,” Nichols said. “This is the best depth we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Rochester Mayo loaded its doubles lineup, hoping to sweep the three doubles matches and take at least one point in singles. Mannetter and Finnegan stood in the way of that strategy’s success.
The other six matches had already concluded – all were finished in straight sets – by the time Mannetter and Finnegan took the court for their third set against Mayo’s Sawyer Bock and Ingrid Neel.
Neel, 13, is the only girl playing in the state high school boys tournament. She is the top-ranked girls 18-and-under player in the U.S. Tennis Association Northern Section.
The Wildcats had a strategy for playing against Neel – and it wasn’t to go after her. It was to stay away from her.
“I just told them, ‘Don’t hit it to Ingrid,’ ” Nichols said.
“The only time we wanted to hit the ball to her was when we had to serve to her,” Finnegan said.
Neel looked comfortable playing against the boys, but she also had two consecutive double faults in the ninth game of the third set, allowing Mannetter and Finnegan to break serve. They also won the next game to close out the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Mannetter and Finnegan said they were aware their match would determine which team moved on to the semifinals, but “I was trying not to look at the scoreboard,” said Mannetter, a junior. “I just wanted to focus on each point. But with the crowd cheering, it was hard to do that.”
Zach Ekstein, Drew Nichols and Simon Barnicle were straight-set winners for Eagan at second through fourth singles. Rochester Mayo won in straight sets at first singles, first doubles and third doubles.
Eagan reached the state tournament after taking the Section 3AA title 4-3 over Bloomington Jefferson, a team Nichols suggested might be stronger and deeper than Rochester Mayo.
“Me and Dylan won our match against Jefferson pretty quickly, and then we watched the other matches, cheered for our teammates and got really nervous,” Finnegan said. “This time our teammates were cheering for us, and it was a great feeling.”
The Class AA singles and doubles tournaments begin Thursday at Baseline Tennis Center. Zach Ekstein, who was 27-1 after winning his match against Rochester Mayo on Tuesday, will play Jason Dilly of Becker in a first-round singles match at 8 a.m. Ekstein was runner-up in the Section 3AA singles tourney.
Section 3AA doubles champions Sam Hoyt and Tanner Rayman of Apple Valley play Jason Gutierrez and William Lindfors of Minnetonka in a first-round doubles match at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Championship matches in singles and doubles will be 11:30 a.m. Friday.