Upset propels Eagan to state tennis meet

  • Article by: BRIAN STENSAAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 29, 2012 - 3:26 PM

The instructions were simple enough.

Eagan boys' tennis coach Scott Nichols knew if the Wildcats could squeeze two singles points from Bloomington Jefferson in the Class 2A, Section 3 finals, the likelihood of returning to the state team tournament was high.

His son, Drew, figured to be a wild card at No. 3 singles but Nichols couldn't watch. So he dispatched his 12-year-old daughter instead.

"I told her not to come back until Drew won," Nichols said.

An hour or so later, she returned, bouncing with the good news.

Drew Nichols, a junior, won his match 2-6. 7-5, 6-3 over the Jaguars' Joshua Punnoose. The result avenged a regular season loss -- for Drew and the Eagan team -- when it mattered the most.

"Being the underdogs going in -- and Jefferson definitely deserved to be the No. 1 seed -- shocking is the wrong word but when you post an upset, it's really exciting," Scott Nichols said of his No. 2 Wildcats' 4-3 squeaker. "Back and forth the whole time, just like the regular-season match."

Eagan gets no favors in the predetermined draw for the state tournament field. The Wildcats will face Section 1 winner defending Class 2A champion Rochester Mayo in the first round at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Baseline Tennis Center on the University of Minnesota campus.

The Wildcats, though, are hungry to get back in the fray. Eagan reached the state finals in 2010, only to lose 6-1 to Eden Prairie.

Zach Ekstein was an eighth-grader on that runner-up team. He earned the Wildcats' lone point with a victory at No. 4 singles. This year, he's undefeated as a sophomore playing No. 2 singles.

"I just don't think he knows how to lose," Scott Nichols said. "We're fortunate to have him in the lineup."

Tri-captains Ben Ekstein and Brandon Vuong, who play at No. 1 doubles, and No. 1 singles player Brady Radermacher have been instrumental as well.

"They've really stepped up their game in the playoffs," Nichols said. "Brandon's emotion and intensity carries us."

The team portion of the state tournament wraps up Wednesday, June 6. The individual and doubles tournaments take place June 7-8, also at Baseline Tennis Center.

Brian Stensaas • 612-673-4127

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