Joe Mairs of Blake helped the Bears win the Class 2A championship on Wednesday. Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune
After years of success in Class 1A, the Blake boys’ tennis team took on its biggest challenge this season by moving up to 2A.
The Bears proved up to the task Wednesday, defeating tough Rochester Century 4-3 in the 2A tournament team final. In capturing the title, they silenced voices that had long called for them to validate themselves by winning at the highest level.
“It feels great to show everyone that we can pull out matches during the regular season and do it when it counts, too,” said sophomore Joe Mairs, the Bears’ No. 2 singles player.
Blake fielded teams capable of competing with anyone in the state for years and played regular-season schedules usually loaded with top-level opponents. But when it came state tournament time, the team considered among the state’s best would play in the Class 1A tournament, usually a cut or two above the rest of the competition.
“We’ve had undefeated years and we’ve played tough schedules,” Blake coach Ted Warner said. “This year, the real key was ‘Can you do it in the playoffs?’, which is very difficult.”
Fifteen of Blake’s previous 17 team titles came in Class 1A (it won the single-class tournament in 1984 and the 2A title in 1991 before moving to the smaller class). In winning three of the past four 1A championships, the Bears lost only three total games in the process.
They showed what they could do on the biggest stage in impressive fashion. They were just as dominant in the first two rounds, sweeping into the finals on the strength of 7-0 victories over Duluth East in the quarterfinals Tuesday and Wayzata in the semifinals earlier Wednesday.
“We played about as well as a team as we could ever play this morning,” Warner said. “I never would have dreamed we would beat Wayzata 7-0.”
Playing at Baseline Tennis Center on the University of Minnesota campus provided a louder, more lively atmosphere than at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center, site of the Class 1A tournament. Instead of allowing the larger crowds to affect them, the Bears fed off the buzz.
“We had a lot more excitement and a lot more energy going in,” said senior captain Jack Barker, Blake’s No. 1 singles player. “But we still kept our composure in big moments. That was what ultimately led to the title.”
Blake became the first boys’ tennis team in state history to win a championship after moving up a class. The players took pride knowing their success no longer has a qualifier.
“It shows that Blake has always been a great program and hopefully will be in the future,” Barker said.
Added Mairs, comparing this championship to years past: “This is No. 1. For sure.”