By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — As he begins his fifth season of varsity tennis, Mankato East/Loyola’s Chris Liu is ready to make a big leap.
The junior will remain the Cougars’ third singles player, but opponents should expect to see a very different player.
“I’d like to be more aggressive,” Liu said. “My goals are to play more offensively, get stronger with my first and second serves, serve and volley a little more and try some different types of strategies.”
Liu took third place in his flight in the Big Nine Conference tournament a year ago, and Cougars coach Paul Williams says he expects to see Liu “battle and get to the championship match” this year.
“I think he’ll be more aggressive with his strokes,” Williams said. “Less slice, more topspin. ... Playing with a stronger, more forceful approach.”
Liu said he wants to be playing high-caliber opponents at the end of the season, players from Rochester Mayo, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.
“It would be a neat experience, he said.
East/Loyola is counting on the return of its “big three” singles players in order to repeat as the top seed in the Section 2AA South Subsection.
Besides Liu, junior Mason Bultje is back at the No. 1 spot and freshman Dominic Cannella returns at No. 2.
“That’s the strength coming back from last year,” Williams said. “And it will be exciting to see how (sophomore) Kameron Saiki will do at the fourth flight.”
Bultje took fourth in the Big Nine last year, and Cannella placed third.
“(Bultje) was the second-seeded player going into the tournament,” Williams said. “He lost a close one to (Rochester) Century. I hope that gives him some motivation this year.”
As a team, the Cougars might be motivated by what happened in the section meet. Seeded No. 1, they were upset by fourth-seeded Willmar 4-3 in the quarterfinals.
“That left a sour taste in our mouth,” Williams said.
Williams expects Mankato West and Hutchinson to be the top competition in the subsection this year.
In doubles play, Williams said sophomore Brendan Loayza and junior Griffin Bibbs will play in the top flight. At No. 2, senior Ahmed Sugulle and Cody Shetka will team up, while at No. 3, senior Mahad Alasow and eighth-grader Josh Ouyang are paired together.
The Cougars’ season-opening meet against Hutchinson scheduled for Tuesday was postponed due to weather. They are scheduled to host New Ulm on Friday.