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Seniors take charge of New Ulm tennis team

File photo by Jeremy Behnke New Ulm’s Isaac Blumhoefer has a 4-1 record this season at the No. 1 singles spot for the New Ulm boys’ tennis team. The Eagles are off to a fast start this year with a 5-0 record and they’ve already clinched the Big South Conference East Division title.

NEW ULM — Spring sports success and New Ulm tennis typically don’t go together.

The Eagles usually struggle on the courts, but this year, things are different. And it starts with the seniors.

The New Ulm boys’ tennis team recently won the East Division of the Big South Conference. It’s the first time they’ve achieved that feat. It’s also possible that the Eagles could win the Big South conference title this year. On Tuesday, they remained unbeaten with a 5-0 record and they travel to Redwood Valley for a match on Thursday.

While head coach Pete Engeldinger doesn’t exactly know if the Eagles have won a conference title, he does know this year’s team is pretty consistent all the way up and down the lineup.

“We weren’t sure what to expect this season, though we knew we had a pretty solid group given the numbers, experience, and talent of our senior class,” Engeldinger said. “Obviously, the freshman group missed their key first year of play last year, so that was a big question mark, but we like how that’s been playing out so far.”

Singles player Max Gieseke has a 4-1 record at the No. 2 spot. He’s been a part of some lopsided losses on the other side as a sophomore two years ago and he’s glad that he’s a part of the success this year.

“It’s nice to be on the winning side of these 6-1 games,” Gieseke said. “We have some new people that have been good right away and our top three singles players have all been on varsity for a while so it’s nice having that experience coming back.”

Isaac Blumhoefer, who moved up to No. 1 singles this year after playing the No. 2 spot in 2019, is 4-1 this year. He didn’t expect so much success early on, either.

“It’s a combination of a lot of seniors have left from some of the other schools, but we’ve had a really strong showing from our sophomore and freshman class,” Blumhoefer said. “And more seniors are stepping up, especially on our doubles side. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well we’re doing over there.”

“This is awesome, in past years we’ve really struggled, maybe won two or three matches, but this year, it’s just fun to see these guys compete and win,” Blumhoefer said.

While Gieseke and his teammates were unable to face any high school competition last year, he said that he and his teammates did try to get to the courts as often as possible last summer. But it wasn’t always easy with some of the courts being shutdown due to COVID.

“In the summer we could have informal practices, and then also I hit around with my friends as well,” Gieseke said.

Blumhoefer said that they had some higher expectations for last year after a tough 2019 season.

“It was tough, especially because last year I thought we had a strong team too with Colton [Collum, last year’s No. 1 singles player], he was really solid,” Blumhoefer said. “Even this year, we didn’t know if we were going to have a season, but we got out there in the summer and that’s maybe a reason why we’re so good this year.”

While Gieseke and Blumhoefer have played the sport a while, fellow senior Joey Gag is the newcomer, having only joined his sophomore year. That year, he played No. 3 doubles, but he’s worked his way up to the No. 3 singles spot this year and he’s doing quite well with a record of 5-0 on the season.

Gag was the goalie on the hockey team and since he wasn’t playing baseball, he decided that tennis would help him with a number of things.

“I joined because I needed a spring sport and I picked tennis because it helped me with my footwork and also my hand-eye coordination,” Gag said. “I like the group of guys so I tried to join a sport where I would get along with people.”

Gag wanted to make the switch to singles and he worked on that last summer.

“The year actually kind of helped, because I was on the court still everyday during the pandemic, just hitting the ball around down at the middle school,” Gag said. “I always played at the singles lines and made the adjustment, because I realized we’d need people to step up.”

While it was a little different at first, Gag was able to make the switch a successful one.

“I kind of feel the pressure, but at the same time, it kind of relieves the pressure that I don’t have to rely on someone to make a good play and I can play my own style and take control of the game on my own,” Gag said.

Ben Brownfield has also been successful at the No. 4 spot, giving the Eagles a tough lineup all the way through.

In doubles action, Tate Trullinger and Cody Gilman are 3-1 and the No. 3 doubles team with Isaac Davis and others such as Dylen Carreon, are 5-0 on the year.

While there’s plenty of season yet to be played, the Eagles are enjoying what they’ve accomplished so far.

“I don’t think we expected to do this well, we didn’t know what other teams would bring, because we haven’t seen anyone in a couple of years,” Gag said. “I think that we kind of took control of the pandemic and bring in extra guys, get out there and try to really develop them. It really is impressive how deep we are as a team, we can win at every spot confidently.”

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