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2013 Spring Preview: Building on last year's success will be goal for East Ridge boys tennis team

East Ridge junior Zach Nigatu returns as a team captain and one of the Raptors' top players in 2013.

With the snow on the ground not quite yet completely melted, the East Ridge boys tennis team has spent a lot of time in the gym working on strength and conditioning as it prepares for the 2013 season.

The Raptors are coming off a year that saw them go 13-4 overall. With the majority of last year's players returning this spring, hopes are high at East Ridge.

"We won a lot of really tight matches last year, so expectations are up," second-year head coach Suzie Heideman said. "We really need to prove ourselves this year as a formidable opponent."

Last year, East Ridge defeated Apple Valley 4-3 to earn its first trip to the Section 3AA quarterfinals, where the season ended with a 6-1 loss against top seed Bloomington Jefferson . In addition to beating Apple Valley, other big wins included: Forest Lake, 4-3, Woodbury, 4-3, and Cretin-Derham Hall, 5-2.

Individually, the doubles team of Colton Mog and Zach Nigatu earned fourth place in the Section 3AA tournament. Vishaal Gupta and Greg Sharrow also represented East Ridge at sections, playing singles at the tournament. Both players defeated their opponents in the first round, but came up short in the second round.

This year, East Ridge will be without 2012 graduates, Mog, Sayan Roy and Warren Tropezado.

However, back with the team are captains Sharrow and Nigatu, who are both juniors, along with Gupta, a sophomore, Nikhil Gupa, a freshman, Aaron Christenson, a junior, Ben Van der Sman, an eighth-grader and sophomores Riley Pratt and Phillip Cai.

The teams to beat in the Suburban East Conference this season are expected to be Woodbury, Roseville, Hastings and Mounds View. In the section, the main hurdles in the way of the state tournament are likely Bloomington Jefferson and Eagan.

East Ridge is hosting its annual invitational along with Woodbury on Saturday, April 6. The two teams then go head-to-head on April 25 in an SEC match. There's been talk of creating a traveling trophy that the two Woodbury-based schools can play for in the future, Heideman said.

"The boys know each other pretty well, so it's a friendly match, but also very competitive," Heideman said. "We won 4-3 last year, but it was close all around."

East Ridge has another important match right after the Raptors take on Woodbury, when section foe Eastview comes to town on April 29.