EVELETH — Eveleth-Gilbert senior Rob Licari looks to be peaking at the right time heading into the Class A State Singles Tennis Tournament.
The Golden Bear captain finished as runner-up in the Section 7A tournament but making it to state to cap off his senior season is a great way to go out.
“I’ve been playing tennis for a long time,” Licari said. “And my friends and I on the team have always talked about making it to the tournament so to finally do it was a pretty cool feeling.”
Looking back at the last day of the section tournament, Licari defeated Hibbing’s Dom Warzecha in the semifinals to put himself into the championship match. While he was glad to get the win, Licari was hopeful he could win the championship to give Warzecha another chance at state.
“My first match was against a really good competitor and friend from Hibbing so I wanted to win that last match to give him one more chance to get to state.”
Looking to help out a friend, Licari wanted to play every point like it was his last.
“In the back of my mind I was telling myself to play like it was the last point I’ll ever play. I wanted to play each point as hard as I could this time.”
Licari wasn’t able to get the win, losing out to Cloquet’s Peter Tomhave. Still earning a spot at state as the section runner-up Licari hopes to have a strong showing as a state rookie, but a Golden Bears veteran.
“Even though I haven’t been to state tennis before, my mind set going in is that I’m a veteran player. I’ve been playing varsity matches for so long that I know I’ll be ready to play my best tennis.
“I remember being nervous at first stepping on to the court during matches. It was just hard to play sometimes going up against tough competition. But now I step out there and I know I’m going to be calm and cool through it all.”
A big component to Licari’s game is his relentless positivity. The E-G senior will always be seen with a smile on his face and one would never find him beating himself up or talking under his breath after a bad point.
“I think being positive is something that’s stuck with me for a while now. Ever since I started tennis in seventh grade, I’ve always tried my best to keep a smile. I just think about the bigger picture and it seems when you’re happy, you’re able to come through with the big points. That’s just how I operate. I step on to the court and that’s who I am.”
Licari’s coach, Dean Edstrom, couldn’t agree more with the senior’s approach to the game.
“I think his mental approach is one that is very hard for kids to develop,” Edstrom said. “To understand that you’re going to miss some balls and know that it doesn’t mean you’re a bad player, it’s very important to have that. I think Rob has the innate ability to step on to the court and understand the game. But to actually step on the court and enjoy it every single day is huge.”
As Licari’s high school tennis career approaches it’s end, Edstrom hopes Licari will look to take some risks at the state tournament in order to advance his game.
“I’ve always told him that he doesn’t need to play as safe as he does. Maybe this will be the time he just goes for it a little bit more.
“He’s always found success in causing other people to miss but he has the ability to win points on his own talent. To play at that top level, you’re going to need to be able to dictate the points and win them in many different ways.”
Unseeded heading into the tournament, Licari will open up play with No. 4 Ishan Nadkarni from Breck. A tough opponent to start, Edstrom knows that playing loose and flexible will be key for Licari to make progress at state.
“He has a good understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses and he needs to play to that and not play to his opponents strengths to start the match. He’ll need to stay flexible and make adjustments on the court during the match if he wants to perform well.”
For Licari, he’s just happy to rep the black and gold one last time.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Licari said. “I’ve been wanting to go down to state for a long time and the coaches definitely deserve to have a player representing Eveleth-Gilbert at state. I’m excited to give it my all and rep the Bears one last time.”
Licari’s first match of the day will start at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.