Growing up, Jackson Allen was really no different from so many other young tennis players. The Shakopee junior, who admits to being “a little bit of a late bloomer,” was an undersized backboard in his younger days, content to stay anchored to the baseline and hit groundstrokes until his opponent grew weary.
All that changed about 18 months ago.
Allen grew to be 6-2 with long, whip-like arms. Those groundstrokes came back with authority. He transformed from just another good young tennis player into the top singles player for his age group in the state.
“As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown wiser,” Allen said.
He’ll put that wisdom to the test this week at the boys’ tennis state tournament, which begins Tuesday and runs through Friday. Allen, undefeated this season, has had his sights set on the Class 2A singles title all spring, prodded by a sense of urgency not held by most high school juniors.
This will be his last chance to win a state championship. He’s on an accelerated program at Shakopee and will graduate a semester early, hoping to get a jump on his tennis career at the University of Minnesota.
“It’s a big deal to me because it’s my last chance to get my name in the record books,” he said. “One of the cool things about the state tournament is that it has an aura. You might play in a USTA tournament that’s harder to win, but nobody remembers who wins those. With the state tournament, pretty much everybody remembers.”
Allen’s profile is not only on the rise locally, he’s moving up the list nationally, too. The current USTA rankings for 18-under boys have him ranked 51st. That’s a significant jump in just the past six months. He was 80th nationally as recently as late January.
People have started to notice. Young players, notably backcourt baseliners just like he was a few years ago, know his name.
“It was kind of funny,” Allen said. “At a [USTA] section tournament, a couple of kids came up to me and asked if I’d take a picture of them. They were about 8 years old. That was kind of neat to see.”
Teams: This year’s championship is there for the taking, with no dominant team as in years past. Minnetonka, Edina, defending champion Mounds View and Rochester Century are all serious contenders. If a favorite had to be named, it would be top-seeded East Ridge. The No. 1-ranked Raptors, making their third consecutive tournament appearance, have just one defeat, a 4-3 loss to Blake on May 17.
Individuals: Allen is favored, by virtue of his undefeated record. Sebastian Vile of Rochester Mayo is seeded No. 2, followed by 2014 singles champ Nick Beaty of Wayzata and East Ridge’s Ben van der Sman.
Teams: Breck delivered the shot heard ’round the prep tennis community when it defeated Blake, the No. 1 team in 1A and the three-time defending champ, 4-3 in the Section 2 finals. That makes the Mustangs the favorite. While the victory over Blake was unexpected, it wasn’t that much of an upset. Breck, coached by former Minneapolis South and University of Minnesota player Sion Wilkins, has been ranked No. 2 all season. Of note: The past 24 Class 1A team champions have been private schools. The last public school to win the small-school title was Staples-Motley in 1992.
Individuals: Blake junior Ben Ingbar earned the top seed in the singles field. No. 2 is teammate Jack Barker, a sophomore who entertains fans with spins, slices and one-handed backhands that harken back to a different era of tennis. Zack Kantor of Foley is seeded third and Ryan Ortega of Winona Cotter fourth.