Crookston heads to state for third straight year under accomplished head coach.
Mike Geffre is certainly no stranger when it comes to state competition.
In fact, Geffre’s career at the helm of Crookston Pirates tennis spans over the last four decades with numerous, decorated accolades along the way.
Geffre joined the staff of Crookston Public Schools in the fall of 1985 and began coaching boys tennis in the spring of 1986.
Right away, Geffre’s coaching made an immediate impact on the team’s overall season.
“We were close (to winning sections) in ‘86, my first year,” Geffre said. “We were actually undefeated in the regular season and lost to St. Cloud Tech in the section championship. There was one class then, it wasn’t two.”
Two years later in 1988, the boys tennis squad came back to claim the Section 3A title with a 3-2 victory over Long Prairie.
“I remember it well,” Geffre said. “It was a very athletic group of kids.”
Geffre noted that boys basketball and wrestling went to state that year, and that the boys hockey team lost a one-goal game in the section championship that would have sent the squad to state.
“That year’s senior class was a bunch of really good athletes,” Geffre said. “We had a lot of those athletes on our tennis team.”
Heading into the state tournament for the first time in his coaching career, Geffre said it was a bit different one.
“At the time, Class A was new so it was only a four-team state tournament. It wasn’t an eight-team.”
Since then, Geffre has led the team to four Region 8A championships from 1993-96 with a second-place finish at state in 1994 and a third-place state finish in 1995.
The Pirates then won the Section 8A championship in 1997 (fourth at state), 1998 (third at state), 2000, 2001, 2003 (sixth at state), 2015, 2016.
“We just keep working on fundamentals and trying to get our fundamental base solid so we have a good foundation to fall back on,” Geffre said.
Geffre can now add 2017 as the 13th boys tennis section/region win to that list since taking over in 1986.
Ranked No. 2 in the section tournament held at Fergus Falls High School, the Pirates defeated the No. 1-ranked Thief River Falls Prowlers 4-3 to advance to the Minnesota State High School League state tournament in Minneapolis for the third straight year.
“I think we have really good kids,” Geffre said. “They do well academically and they’re motivated. They work hard so we’ve been really blessed to have kids that are very coachable. They listen to what you’re telling them and they go out and execute what you’re trying to do. It makes your job a lot easier if you have those kinds of kids to work with.”
The Pirates are led by five seniors this year: Matt Garmen, Jake Widseth, Mitchell Olson, Thomas Cymbaluk and Logan Prudhomme.
“Almost all of our seniors, they have good temperaments for tennis,” Geffre said. “They really get stuff done in the classroom and they understand goals and how to succeed.”
Garmen has led the team at No. 1 singles for much of the season.
“Very good athlete, very disciplined,” Geffre said.
Olson is a 6-foot-6 player that use his height to his advantage next week.
“He is very coachable,” Geffre said. “He’s got a great temperament for tennis. Low key. Just keeps everything calm inside.”
Widseth also keeps himself in check while on the court.
“Jake Widseth is very calm on the court,” Geffre said. “Don’t really see much emotion or outburst. Plays within himself.”
Cymbaluk can pose a threat on the court with just his serve.
“Tom Cymbaluk probably has one of the trickier serves on our team for people to return serve on,” Geffre said.
In his first year on the varsity squad, Geffre says Prudhomme has come a long way this season.
“He jumped from played junior varsity last year to playing solid doubles this year (on varsity),” Geffre said. “He’s really improved his all-around game and contributed tremendously to our team.”
With this year’s seniors departing from the team, and no juniors to take their places, Geffre will look to sophomores Blake Fee, Dillon Owens, Logan Johnson, Logan Schultz, Mason LaPlante and Nick Garmen to lead the team next season.
“Next year without having any seniors, they’re going to have to take on a leadership role,” Geffre said. “This group of sophomores is a pretty good group. They’re very competitive and they intermix very well with the young kids and the seniors.”
Seventh-graders Jack Garmen, Evan Christensen and Mason Owens will travel with the team next week to Minneapolis, with Garmen playing in the team lineups and Christensen and Owens as alternates.
“Just looking at how far the seventh-graders have come this year from when they stepped foot on the court eight weeks ago, they are miles ahead of where they used to be,” Geffre said. “I think this is a good year for them to continue to work hard and make an impact next year.”
With a wide variety of age and skillsets on the court, Geffre hopes the team can overcome a strong obstacle in the very first round of action.
Since private schools entered the Class A system, Geffre doesn’t think a public school has won the state tournament as a team.
“We had a stretch in the 90’s where we were undefeated against public schools in Minnesota and the one thing that kind of kept getting in our way is running into a private school at the state tournament,” Geffre said. “When we finished second, we ran into a private school in the finals that was better than us. We happened to have beaten some private schools back then too, but there’s always two or three of them that are really solid.”
Since 2006, the Class A team title has been won by Mounds Park Academy (2006), St. Paul Academy and Summit School (2007, 2008), Breck School (2009, 2011, 2012, 2016) and the Blake School (2010, 2013, 2014, 2015).
Crookston will open its 2017 state tournament run with a 2 p.m. matchup on Tuesday with the Blake School at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
“The Blake School is a tough one,” Geffre said. “They have the top three kids in the state on their team and that makes them very formidable.
“Regardless of what happens in that match we just want to do what we do and that’s work hard every point. Just do what we can do, and if we at least hopefully take something away from that match that will prepare us for the next one.”
Despite what happens in next week’s outcome, Geffre hopes the team is satisfied with the final results.
“Enjoy the moment that you’re there,” Geffre said. “Don’t get caught up in the winning and losing thing, but just go out and compete hard and leave everything on the court and you’ll be satisfied with the outcome.
“Playing in the state tournament is a lot of fun.”
Note: Geffre also coaches the Crookston Pirates girls tennis team. Since taking over, Geffre has led the team to section/region championships in 1989, 1993 (fourth at state), 1995 (second at state), 1996 (fourth at state), 1997, 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2015 (second at state).