Cotter’s Ian Modjeski is dusting off his glass slippers and trying them on to see if they still fit.
A Cinderella story in last year’s Section 1A Boys Tennis Tournament, Modjeski — an unseeded freshman — knocked off the tournament’s No. 1 seed in the first round and made it all the way to the section finals.
Now, a year later as a sophomore, Modjeski faces even steeper odds in the first round of the MSHSL Class A State Boys Tennis Tournament on Thursday at Reed Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis. He is matched up against the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Rikard Wilkens of Redwood Valley. Wilkens, an international student from Sweden, is undefeated this season and hasn’t even lost a set. His worst set of the year was a 6-3 win.
“I’ve definitely been comparing it to that in my head,” Modjeski said. “Nobody thought I could win last year and maybe I’ll do it again.”
Modjeski is a huge underdog. But he’s not worried. This is familiar territory.
“Everybody can be beat,” he said. “Everybody has a good day, everybody has a bad day, so you can’t give up a match before you’ve played it. You’re always in it.”
His storybook run in last year’s section tournament gave him the confidence and motivation he needed to work on his game all offseason and come back better and ready to take the next step. Modjeski missed out on a state tournament berth last year, losing the section final and the subsequent true second-place match. And only the top two finishers qualify for state. But this year — entering as the No. 3 seed — he took care of business.
Modjeski finished as the section runner up, defeating Stewartville’s Ethan Humble 6-3, 6-2 in the second-place match to qualify for State.
“When I won that match, I was really excited,” he said. “I’m not really nervous going up. I just want to play my game and I’m just excited that I made it.
I’m not even thinking about where I’m gonna place, I just want to go up there and play. If I can make a run in the consolation bracket, that would be great. My goal is to make it to the second day. If I can do that, I’ll be very happy.”
Modjeski worked hard in the offseason to improve his game and get to the point where he had a shot at a run to the state tournament. During the offseason, he practiced three times a week for two hours and he says lately during the season he’s been practicing four hours a day every day.
“Ian is one of those guys that is always there — getting there early, staying late,” Cotter coach Jeff Besek said. “He’s always at the 6 a.m. practices or whenever we had to fit them in. Sometimes early in the season with the weather, that’s the only time we can get courts.”
“My strokes are better,” Modjeski said. “Last year I was doing a lot of pushing and slicing back and this year I can actually hit more confidently.”
JERRY YANG AND TONY WAN
The Cotter doubles team of junior Tony Wan and senior Jerry Yang are racking up the frequent flyer miles for the state tournament.
The Chinese international students went on a trip to California after the Section 1A tournament, flew back to Minnesota on Wednesday before the state tournament, and are flying home to China right away after the tournament.
With all of the travel, Wednesday is their first chance to practice since sections.
“I hope it won’t be a big deal but until we get there, I guess we won’t know,” Besek said. “We’ve played a lot so part of it is good in that you get a little rest.”
Wan and Yang were the top two singles players for the Ramblers for most of the season, taking the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the lineup. But the longtime friends enjoy competing together and felt their best chance to go as far as possible would be together.
Despite not playing any doubles matches in the regular season, the duo make a great team. Yang is a steady consistent presence on the court, while Wan has an aggressive mentality and likes to attack.
“Tony is — I call him lightning in a bottle,” Besek said. “He has some of the best physical skills on the team. When he’s on, he can be the best person on the team. And then there’s days where it fluctuates. But when he finds it, he finds it. It’s a good trait in doubles, he likes to hit the ball hard and smash it. And in doubles you have to be really aggressive.”
The Cotter tandem opens play Thursday against third-seeded Leland Salter and Andrew Stevenson from Fridley.
“Doubles in very tough to seed,” Besek said. “That’s their No. 1 and No. 2 players, just like Tony and Jerry are our top guys. But they only have a few matches together just like Jerry and Tony didn’t play doubles at all during the season. Their only doubles experience was in sections. So there’s a chance we could be competitive in that.”