The boys’ tennis program at Shakopee has had a difficult time advancing out of its section. Now, it finds itself in a favorite’s role.
Shakopee is ranked No. 2 in the coaches association Class 2A poll. Two-time defending Section 2 champion Minnetonka — also the state tournament runner-up each of the past two seasons — holds the No. 7 spot.
“I think our ranking is a good representation of how far our program has come the last three years,” Sabers senior captain Brandon Lehn said. “Our hard work has paid off to get that ranking.”
The Sabers have a veteran group, but only two of its members have played in the state tournament. They are junior Rajadurai Arul and sophomore Jackson Allen, who advanced as doubles partners in 2013. Allen is the No. 1 singles player for the Sabers and ranked No. 4 in the state, while Arul holds down the third spot.
“Several of the boys on the team have been together for a number of years now,” Shakopee co-coach Jenny Arnfelt said. “In addition, most of the players this year are returning players from last year’s squad.”
Shakopee’s roster has four seniors — Than Boisjolie-Gair, Ryan Carlson, Preston Husom and Brandon Lehn. Husom and Lehn make up the team’s top doubles pairing. Boisjolie-Gair and Carlson also play doubles.
There are three other juniors to go along with Arul. They are Raghu Inturi, Steffon Mitchell and Brady Pudwill. Mitchell is a Division I basketball recruit. Inturi is the only singles player in the group.
“We have some very good athletes on our team,” Lehn said. “We have a solid lineup.”
Three other underclassmen who fill out the lineup are sophomore Alex Exsted and eighth-graders Brooks Allen, Jackson’s younger brother, and Luke Fischer. Exsted plays singles while the two eighth-graders play doubles.
“This team is motivated, inspired and driven to improve every day and are fueled by competition,” Arnfelt said. “They have pushed each other to work hard, give full effort, and stay positive and supportive of one another throughout the season — regardless of what is put in their path along the way.”
The state’s best Class 1A school, Blake, stood in that path earlier this season. Blake handed the Sabers their only dual-meet setback 5-2 in April.
“I think that loss will toughen us up for other matches this year,” Lehn said. “That match humbled us. It motivated us to work harder.”
Arnfelt hopes the loss helps improve the team’s mental approach.
“A big thing we’re working on is persevering,” Arnfelt said. “We have to stay confident and think positively.”
If all that comes together, Shakopee could reach its ultimate goal — a trip to the state tournament.
“I think we’re one of the best teams to come out of Shakopee,” Lehn said. “We want to be the first Shakopee team to make it to the state tournament.”