Mahtomedi's Ryan Meger volleyed with Tartan's Nathan Reddy during their match.
Mahtomedi’s six consecutive appearances at the Class 2A boys’ tennis state tournament come with an asterisk: The Zephyrs haven’t won it yet.
But fifth-year coach Justen Seim keeps his glass half full.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you guys just can’t get over the hump,’ ” Seim said. “And we’re like, ‘Well, we’re giving ourselves the opportunity every year.’ ”
The Zephyrs are primed for another state run in 2014, led by a balanced lineup that features several key players from last year’s squad, which won the consolation trophy.
Junior Ryan Meger, who made last year’s state singles tournament, is one of three players who Seim said could play No. 1 singles. The others — juniors Thomas Comfort and Cooper Schwieters — also started at singles last season.
“We’re going to be deep,” Seim said. “We don’t have the superstar on the team that we’ve kind of had in the past.”
Seim was referring to Ty Young, who held the Zephyrs’ top singles spot in 2012 and 2013, and Tucker Saxon, a four-time section champion who now plays for the University of Minnesota.
But those two are only part of Mahtomedi’s success. Seim said all 10 of his starters play at Lifetime Fitness during the offseason.
That’s a commitment the players make, not a requirement of the program. Seim said it helps set an expectation for the team’s junior varsity players.
“If the kid wants to be able to play, they take the time to commit themselves to it,” Seim said.
During long winters such as this one, the extra experience gives Mahtomedi an additional advantage. While many teams waited for the snow to clear, the Zephyrs held indoor practices at Lifetime.
“I think that in the past, we’ve just worked so well together and we’ve had such depth through the lineup,” senior captain Derek Johnson said. “We’ve just had that program where people just want to play tennis.”
The Zephyrs’ depth and preparation showed Tuesday in a season-opening victory against Tartan. Mahtomedi won 84 of 85 games against the Titans.
But the Zephyrs will have it tougher in conference and section play. They lack experience compared to previous teams, especially at the No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles spots.
That means the first month of the season will likely be an experiment.
“I think they just need some match experience,” Meger said of the Zephyrs’ younger players. “During the end of the season, they should be really ready for state.”
Seim said he’ll start to look at how his lineup matches up against other top teams a couple of days before the Edina Invitational on May 3. Many treat that competition, which includes many top teams, as a state tournament preview.
If the matchups turn out favorably, this year might be the Zephyrs’ best chance to win the state title. This year’s Class 2A field has no clear favorite.
“If we keep giving ourselves the opportunity,” Seim said, “we’re going to take advantage of it someday.”
Charlie Armitz is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.