When the season started, Mounds View seventh-grader Christo Alex wasn’t even playing matches that counted, relegated to playing exhibition matches. Tuesday, the exuberant Alex was front and center in Mounds View’s 4-3 victory over Edina in the Class 2A boys’ tennis state tournament semifinals.
Christo, the second-youngest of the tennis-playing Alex family, rallied from a first-set loss to defeat Edina eighth-grader Luke Westholder 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 for the deciding point in the match.
“Christo brings a different dynamic,” Mounds View coach Mike Cartwright said. “He’s louder, more animated.”
The match was eerily reminiscent of Mounds View’s 2015 state championship victory, when Christo’s brother Petro, now a sophomore playing No. 1 singles for the Mustangs, won the deciding match in the finals. Petro took care of his business Tuesday, winning in straight sets, before spending the next hour-and-a-half agonizing over every point Christo played.
“That crossed my mind,” Petro said of his contribution to Mounds View’s most recent state title. “That’s one of my favorite memories. Christo and I fight like brothers, but we’re there for each other when it matters.”
After a hard-fought tiebreaker victory in the second set, Christo raced out to a 5-2 lead in the final set. Westholder rallied by winning consecutive games, keeping the outcome in doubt and riveting onlookers before Christo finished off the match.
“I just told myself ‘This is your game.’ I wanted to stay aggressive,” he said. “He made great shots at the end. There was nothing I could do. But this feels awesome. It’s first year with the team and my second time playing when [the match] was tied 3-3. I lost the first time. It feels great to finally win it.”
Christo was not the only seventh-grader to have success for Mounds View. Bjorn Swenson had a much smoother path Tuesday, defeating Edina freshman Ryne Reger 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 singles.
“What’s really impressive has been Christo and Bjorn’s development,” Cartwright said. “They’ve really grown up. They’re two really special players.”
The Mustangs will face defending champion Minnetonka in Wednesday’s semifinals. The Skippers,who celebrated heartily last year after winning the school’s first boys’ team title in 42 years, looked like seasoned tournament veterans bent on making it two in a row, defeating St. Cloud Tech 7-0 in the first match on Tuesday. The No. 1-seeded Skippers did not lose a set, with only No. 1 singles player Ben Wheaton needing as much as tiebreaker in the first set of his match.
For East Ridge, not having the No. 1 seed in the tournament was to their advantage. The Raptors were the top-seed in 2016, only to lose to Minnetonka in the semifinals. They were seeded No. 3 this year and defeated Duluth East 7-0. Senior No. 1 singles player Ben van der Sman said having a lesser seed worked to their advantage. “It helped us not to have that target on our backs,” he said. “Especially here. We’re able to get the jitters out and play more freely, without pressure.
The Raptors will play Wayzata, which outlasted No. 2-seeded Rochester Mayo 4-3. The Trojans got three-set victories at No. 3 and 4 singles to eke out the win.
“We knew it would be a battle,” Trojans coach Jeff Prondzinski said. “We weren’t going to be seeded because our losses this year were to the top five teams at state, but we also knew whoever we faced was going to get a battle. We’ve had some close matches this year and this is the first time we’ve won one.”
In its last season as a Class 1A program, No. 1-ranked Blake is on a mission, looking to complete an undefeated season with its fourth state championship in the last five years.
The Bears, who will move to Class 2A starting next season, moved a step closer after cruising through their quarterfinal match with a 7-0 victory over Crookston.
Blake will face Rochester Lourdes in the semifinals. Lourdes defeated Fridley 7-0, ending the dream for the Tigers, making their first state tournament appearance in 35 years.
In the other semifinal, St. Paul Academy, a 5-2 winner over Litchfield, will meet Virginia, also a 5-2 winner over Luverne.