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Eagan's Zagrebelny battles balky back to reach boys' tennis semis

06/08/2017, 8:57pm CDT
By Aaron Reiss, Star Tribune

Maxim Zagrebelny has been battling a stress fracture in his back since last weekend, but reached the Class 2A semifinals.


Maxim Zagrebelny

Maxim Zagrebelny was lying on his back during the quarterfinals of the Class 2A boys’ tennis singles state tournament. It was during a break, with the Eagan sophomore leading midway through the second set after having won the first over Orono’s Conner Olsen.

Zagrebelny, who lost in the first round of the state tournament as a freshman, began suffering from a stress fracture in his lower back during section play last weekend. He felt well enough early Thursday at Baseline Tennis Center, good enough to stay ahead of Olsen with long rallies and finesse shots near the net, until a forehand attempt caused him pain. So he asked for medical attention.

“Something popped,” Eagan coach Scott Nichols said. “Then the trainer came out, and something really popped.”

The second time, in a good way.

Zagrebelny still felt pain for the rest of the match. But the scare ended up being nothing more. The tournament’s No. 5 seed went on to defeat Olsen, the No. 4 seed, 6-4, 6-2 in perhaps Thursday’s most dramatic singles competition. He will face the tournament’s top seed, Ben Van der sman of East Ridge, in the semifinals on Friday.

Often, when Zagrebelny didn’t execute a shot, costing himself a point, he’d talk aloud to himself before the next serve. He was pumping himself up.

“The thing about tennis is it’s a quick sport,” Zagrebelny said. “Everything resets many times, so many times to keep battling.”

He never ceded control to Olsen in the evenly contested match. Nichols said Eagan’s competitive section and Zagrebelny’s exposure to the state tournament last year prevented nerves from taking over, even if the back injury slowed him.

The coach called Zagrebelny’s timing and clean ball-striking ability the best of any player he’s coached at Eagan. They both agree that Zagrebelny has gained confidence since last year.

Zagrebelny said he knows he would have a better chance at winning the state title if not for the back injury. Still, he talked of exerting himself as much effort as possible without making it worse.

At least for Thursday, that was enough.

In the other 2A semifinal on Friday, Robbinsdale Armstrong senior Nikita Snezhko, the No. 3 seed, will play junior Sebastian Vile of Rochester Mayo, seeded No. 2. The championship match is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.

Top four in 1A advance

Blake’s Jack Barker and Joe Mairs — the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds — advanced to the semifinals Friday at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center. Barker, a junior, will play No. 4 seed Justin Bobo, an eighth-grader for Rochester Lourdes. Mairs, a freshman, will play Ryan Ortega, a Winona Cotter senior seeded third.

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