VIRGINIA — The Rock Ridge tennis team has had a long layoff since their last regular season match on May 10.

Still, the Wolverines are the team to beat as they head into today’s section semifinals and finals as the No. 1 seed. Two match wins away from a successful defense of last year’s section title, Rock Ridge head coach Jace Friedlieb says the last week of practice has been all about preparation for the Wolverines.

“It’s been a good time for us to buckle down and really focus on the playoffs,” Friedlieb said at Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve gotten outside the last couple of days with the weather cooperating and today the weather isn’t cooperating but we’re fortunate enough to practice indoors. It’s been a lot of focusing on what’s coming this week and being prepared and ready to go tomorrow.”

Entering as the defending section champs and this year’s top seed in the tournament, some may think that adds some extra pressure to Rock Ridge. Friedlieb has encouraged his team to embrace that pressure.

“From the beginning, I’ve told them that pressure is a privilege. The pressure they feel is good. In order to defend that section title, we need to be ready to play and fight through that pressure and I think the boys have been ready to do that.”

Rock Ridge’s first match is set for 9 a.m. against No. 4 Cloquet in Hibbing. The winner of that match will then turn around and play the winner of No. 2 Hermantoan and No. 3 Hibbing with a trip to state on the line. Friedlieb says his team, while strong, has some inexperience in important matches and will need to fend off the best from the Lumberjacks and potentially the Hawks or ‘Jackets in the match to follow.

“All the other teams are hungry and I think they’d like to take us off the top.

We want to defend that title from last year and we’re in a unique spot because I think only three of our top 10 were a part of last year’s top 10. So it’s a young team that hasn’t been in that pressure scenario yet. There’s no better way to learn how to handle that than jumping right in and that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Playing a number of doubleheaders throughout the season, Friedlieb isn’t concerned about his team’s endurance over the course of two matches.

“The first match is obviously the most important but a lot of the guys are going to be thinking about what’s up ahead. There will be that break in between matches and we’ll want our guys to stay rested and hydrated but also stay focused and stay hungry for that second match if we’re lucky enough to be there.

“They’ve been in plenty of spots where they have to play multiple matches a day so they know what to expect. They’re ready for it and it shouldn’t be a new variable for them.”

Should the weather turn sour prior to the match start, the tournament will be moved to the Virginia Indoor Courts and will begin at 11 a.m. Whether it's indoors or outdoors, Friedlieb is confident in his team’s ability to get the job done.

“We’re prepared if it’s outside and we’ll definitely be prepared if it’s inside. I think all signs point to us being ready to compete at the highest level tomorrow.”

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