VIRGINIA — Virginia sophomores Jace Westerbur and Ryan Scherf had expectations of only making it to the final four of the 7A doubles tennis tournament.
Instead, they surpassed those expectations, winning the section title and punching their first tickets to state as individuals.
While the duo may not have expected to make the trip to Minneapolis, they still had a plan in mind in the off chance they saw a chance to make it there/
“We definitely started thinking we were just going to make it to that second day, that final four,” Scherf said. “We thought if we were going to have a chance to go to state, we’d go through the backside of the bracket,” and play their way through a true-second match.
Instead, Virginia’s top doubles pair got two impressive wins over two Hibbing teams on the final day, one coming from Carter Anderson and Ryan Osborne, the consolation runners-up from the 2018 state tournament.
“We definitely didn’t expect to win the whole thing the way we did,” Scherf finished.
Their other win on that final day came over the Bluejackets’ Joe Dwyer and Mark Borland, the same duo that beat Scherf and Westerbur in the team section championship. Getting both of those wins looks to have given the Devils duo a strong boost of confidence.
“It was overwhelming at first,” Westerbur said of winning the section title. “But it gave us a lot of confidence. We didn’t go into those matches expecting to win them both so now we’re going into state with no pressure on us. We’re sophomores and we have nothing to lose going in.”
Devils head coach Jeff Mauston said after the section championship that the pair didn’t look like sophomores on the court and that trend has continued in the practices leading up to state.
“I’m impressed with them,” Mauston said. “We’ve been having good practices and they’re having fun and working hard. They’re exciting to watch and I think they have it in their heads that they can compete with anyone, and they absolutely can.
“I think they would have given Ethan Youso and Jake Seitz a run for their money the way they played at sections,” Mauston said with a chuckle in a nod to last year’s state qualifying doubles team.
As with any successful doubles team, a large factor in understanding their success is chemistry.
“They’ve played together as doubles partners for a while now and they know what it’s all about. They’re not going to change the way they’ve played up to this point because they’ve managed to find success now.
“They feed off of each other. Scherf has learned to hit all the shots and Westerbur is a bit of a banger but he’s learning patience as well. I think the combination of those two play styles is what makes them so successful.”
On the court, the pair always looks to make each other laugh when they need to fight their way back into the match.
“Whenever we get mad or don’t play that well, we just look at each other and make each other laugh,” Westerbur said. “That really helps us kick it into gear.”
“We just try to be ourselves,” Scherf explained. “We want to be out there laughing and enjoying our time on the court with some good competition.”
Expectations when it comes to performance are a bit up in the air when it comes to the sophomores, but Mauston believes the most important thing for them will be to stay calm and keep having fun.
“So much at state depends on the draw you get,” Mauston said. “If you get matched up with a team where it looks like they outmatch you, then there’s nothing wrong with playing even more comfortably and just trying to do the best you can. But if you get set up with a nice draw then anything can happen.
“I always say the goal is to get to that final day, but ultimately I want them to keep doing what they’ve been doing and have some fun. It should leave a good taste in their mouth that the last thing they’re doing as sophomores is playing tennis.”
Part of the Blue Devils squad that made it to state as a team the year before, Scherf and Westerbur appreciate the experience they already have at state, but understand that the individual tournament is a whole different ball game.
“It helps having that experience,” Scherf said. “But it’s going to be different not having the whole team there. You go out there to play for yourselves and to have fun.”
Making it to the state’s biggest stage, the pair had to give thanks to a couple members of the team that helped get them to where they are.
“We wanted to thank our senior captain Gavin Flaim for a good season,” Scherf said. “We couldn’t ask for a better coach either. We’re kind of figuring it out that he knows what he’s talking about.”
Scherf and Westerbur will open up play at the State Tournament on Thursday at 10 a.m. The Virginia pair are unseeded and will face off with the unseeded pair of Bailey More and Liam Dixon from St. Peter High School.