Devils ground Hawks, 6-1

Virginia's Brady Seppala returns a volley during Thursday's Section 7A quarterfinal against Hermantown.

VIRGINIA — The second seeded Virginia boys’ tennis team kicked off their postseason run Thursday with a 6-1 win over No. 7 Hermantown at Virginia’s Southside courts.

Virginia picked up straight set wins in all six of their points, only falling at No. 3 doubles in a three set supertiebreak.

In singles, the Devils were off the court as quickly as they were on it with all four of the points dropping a combined seven games. At No. 1 singles, Joe Hafdahl dispatched the Hawks’ top player Ethan Hallgren with a convincing 6-2, 6-0 win to lead Virginia.

At second singles, Caleb Bialke was perfect in his rout of Hermantown’s Nolan Brickson. Bialke served up a double bagel, defeating the Hawk senior in less than an hour.

The Devils’ Brandon Gulbranson cruised past his opponent, Chase Sams, just as quickly with a 6-1, 6-2 win to keep Virginia perfect in singles.

Finally, at No. 4 singles, Gavin Benz was a winner for Virginia with a 6-0, 6-2 win over the Hawks’ Ben Kangas. The win gave Virginia a perfect 4-0 finish in singles on the day.

On the doubles side, only the No. 2 tandem of Jack Elliot and Brady Seppala had an easier match. The pair needed no time at all to defeat Hermantown’s Thomas and Adam Rohlader, 6-1, 6-2.

At No. 1 doubles, Jace Westerbur and Ryan Scherf had a tight battle with Hermantown’s Aaron Evjen and Zam Plante, but in the end, came out with a straight sets win, 6-4, 6-4.

At No. 3 doubles, Virginia’s Gavin Flaim and Kyle Williams struggled out of the gate and fell in their first set 6-4. The pair still had slow going in the second set, but managed to even things up with a 6-4 win.

In the first to 10 supertiebreak, the pair were outgunned by the Hermantown duo and dropped the final set 10-7, giving the Hawks their only point of the day.

After the match, Devils head coach Jeff Mauston said he was pleased with how his team came out to start the postseason.

“When you’re the favorite to win a match I think it’s always a tough start,” Mauston said. “I think we came in a little overconfident at some spots but we worked through it. Our singles guys played really well.

“Our doubles guys, well not that they played poorly but Hermantown played really well at one and three. They were solid and I think we took that for granted. Hermantown had nothing to lose and maybe we were just a bit tight there.”

With the section semifinals and finals both on Saturday, Mauston believes his team’s experience in postseason play should help them out down the stretch.

“I think our experience is very solid. I think it’s a little different because we’re the underdogs to [No. 1] Hibbing this year but with how we began at the start of the season with a bunch of young, new players, I’m happy to be in the position we’re in and glad the kids have worked hard this season.”

The last time Virginia was an underdog in the section playoffs? It was 2017 when they were the No. 3 seed that eventually bested Hibbing to head to state. They toppled Hibbing as a No. 1 seed last year to repeat as section champions. This year, Virginia will look to make it three years in a row.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re as good as we were two years ago with that team. I think with Hibbing being so heavy on senior experience, they have to be the odds-on favorite this year. But that’s what makes it fun. Look at our group and the kids that didn’t play varsity last year and how far they’ve come this year. I want them to succeed and so far they’re doing great.”

Virginia’s first match on Saturday will be against No. 3 Cloquet and is expected to start at 9 a.m. Weather permitting, Saturday’s matches will be in Hibbing and will be moved to Virginia’s indoor courts if the weather does not cooperate.

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