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Mankato East/Loyola’s Chris Liu prepares for a backhand shot against Rochester Century in Thursday’s match at the East tennis courts.

Pat Christman
The Free Press

Already faced with the tough task of playing Rochester Century, the Mankato East/Loyola boys tennis team also had to battle wind and cold weather on Thursday afternoon.

“The conditions dictated (the match) a little bit, but I was pretty happy with our effort today,” coach Ted Bartolo said after the 7-0 Big Nine Conference loss to the Panthers.

One of the bright spots on the day for the Cougars, Bartolo said, was at No. 4 singles where eighth-grader Chris Liu battled his way through a 6-2, 6-2 loss.

Using his size advantage over the younger, smaller Liu, Century’s Cody Narveson often charged the net and was able to make Liu scramble for many of the points.

Liu, however, did not mind the mix of volleys and running shots.

“Matches are a little more exciting with volleys because you have to have fast reaction time and you have to be ready for the next volley,” Liu said.

And as for the constant hustling from one side of the court to the other, “I embrace that part (of the game),” he said.

With fellow eighth-grader Mason Bultje already at No. 2 singles, the two offer a very promising future for the Cougars (6-8, 3-6 in Big Nine) that Bartolo sees potential in as long as the two continue to develop.

“I would expect to see them just kind of understand the bigger picture better from days like this,” Bartolo said. “Just being 30-all with a really good player and just learning to deal (with things) like that and their emotion at that time (is key).”

Said Liu: “(My goal is) to make at least No. 2 singles.”

With such youth on the team, Bartolo is glad to have captains like Alex Welter and Phil Weyhe not only compete for themselves but also help guide the rest of the team.

“They’ve really been great captains,” said Bartolo. “They lead on the court, they lead on the bus, (and) they lead in practice. It’s been really good for our younger guys to understand, ‘OK, I’m playing just behind this guy, but he’s years ahead of me in terms of maturity and just overall development.’”

Despite getting swept by the Panthers (8-2, 8-1), Bartolo saw some things that he liked in his team’s performance.

“I think our doubles guys did a lot of good communication,” he said. “(Century) is known to have some big servers, so we returned the ball well. I think our singles guys tried to stay on the court awhile and win some individual points in making the other guy make an extra shot again and again.”

Bultje had the closest match of the afternoon, falling 6-4, 6-2 at No. 2 singles.

“They have some players that can hit a winner from several different places on the court, so we made them hit those winners,” Bartolo said. “I was happy with us going out there and not just rolling over.”

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