Benjamin Sajevic and Joseph Shubert, of Woodbury, strategize during the first round of doubles at the state championship at the Baseline Tennis Center on the University of Minnesota on Thursday morning. ] The Minnesota state high school league boy's tenn
When Woodbury seniors Ben Sajevic and Joey Shubert won the Class 2A, Section 3 doubles championship to advance to the state tennis tournament, their older brothers celebrated proudly from the sidelines.
Four years ago as freshmen, Sajevic and Shubert were part of a Woodbury team that fell 4-3 to Eastview in a heartbreaking section title game. Their older brothers, Jake Sajevic and Matt Shubert, also played for that Royals squad.
With a straight-set win over Burnsville’s Thomas and Paul McCallie in the section final, the younger Sajevic and Shubert siblings exorcised some old demons.
“That was probably the highlight of my high school career,” Ben Sajevic said of the win over the top-seeded McCallie brothers. “I’ve been working to try to make it to state since the team almost made it my freshman year. I finally got to do it.”
Last year, Ben Sajevic and Joey Shubert’s older brother, Matt, teamed up in a bid to qualify for the state tournament as a doubles team, but it didn’t work out.
Immediately after the season, Sajevic and Joey Shubert made a pact to join forces for one last shot at state. The two played together over the summer, then in tournaments and non-conference matches this spring.
“It was in the back of my mind,” Joey Shubert said. “We knew we had a good chance to go to state and I wanted to make sure it would happen sometime.”
Seeded second, Sajevic and Shubert cut through the section without dropping a set, including a 6-3, 7-6 (2) victory over the McCallie brothers in the championship.
“They definitely deserved it,” Woodbury head coach Michael Moran said. “By no means was it handed to them. They worked their butts off.”
In order to maximize points for the team, Sajevic and Shubert each played singles for the Royals in most matches this season, switching off between No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Moran said if Sajevic and Shubert played 10 head-to-head matches against each other, they’d probably each win five. The boys played with, and against, each other since the seventh grade. The friendly rivalry led to better play.
“We’re always competing with each other,” Ben Sajevic said. “It definitely pushed us, because we wanted to beat each other. I think Joey is a little better than me, but it’s never been an issue. I’ve always been happy for him when he does well, because he’s a friend and it’s good for the team, overall.”
Together, the duo took first place at the SoWashCo tournament. Then, in a tournament in Eau Claire, Wis., they defeated Brookfield East’s top tandem — one that eventually won the Wisconsin state championship.
“That boosted their confidence,” Moran said. “That was a stepping stone they needed in order to fully realize their potential.”
A key to the boys’ doubles game was attacking the net. Both players are about 6-feet-2 and form a formidable tandem to try and get the ball through.
“They’re both tall, athletic and quick,” Moran said. “It’s hard to get the ball past them with their wingspans when they’re up at the net. Doubles is a different game. You can’t just sit on the baseline and blast ground strokes.”
Sajevic and Shubert won their first match at the state tournament in straight sets, but lost 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals to Maple Grove’s Charlie Adkins and Rory Calabria. Adkins and Calabria went on to win the state championship.
“I honestly thought we had a really good shot at winning state,” Sajevic said. “We knew we had to bring our top game, but I don’t think we brought it. Overall, though, the experience was fantastic. It was a really cool way to go out.”