LUMBERJACK FLASHBACK: The boys tennis tandem that reached unprecedented heights
Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series titled Lumberjack Flashback, highlighting some of the greatest spring sports teams, athletes and moments in Bemidji High School history. Stories on each of Bemidji’s seven spring sports programs will be released in line with this year’s originally scheduled state tournament dates.
All season long, both Peder Engelstad and Austin Seaverson were nearly unstoppable on the tennis courts. When they joined forces, they made history.
“We wanted to do something meaningful for our program,” Engelstad said. “And, obviously, as you’re approaching your senior year, you want to have some sort of lasting impact for the program.”
The pair checked both boxes.
The 2002 Bemidji High School graduates still stand as some of the most decorated boys tennis players in program history, having set a program benchmark by qualifying for the state tournament three years in a row as doubles partners.
“All during the season, these two would play singles,” said Scott Engelstad, Peder’s father and the program’s head coach from 1994-2010. “They were our top-performing singles players. We put them in doubles at the end of the year because singles was even tougher to get to state. Doubles was tough enough.”
Peder Engelstad and Seaverson alternated between Nos. 1 and 2 singles during the regular season, respectively finishing with 17-1 and 14-2 records their senior year. The two formed a formidable pairing on the doubles side in time for the Section 8AA Tournament, though, and that can be credited to their offseason investment.
“When they were in middle school, pretty much every day in the summertime they’d get together at the tennis courts and just play, play, play,” Scott said. “They were court rats. They would do a lot of stuff together.”
“Ever since we were 13 or so, we played together all summer long, six to eight hours a day,” Peder added. “You just get to know each other’s game and personality. Not just how to work with someone technically, but emotionally.”
The run to state
The Engelstad-Seaverson pairing was one built for success. Engelstad was the analytical one, always searching for the advantage with a more mild-mannered approach. Seaverson, in turn, wore his emotions on his sleeve and let it overflow Engelstad’s way, and he also was the power player they needed.
“I could hit the ball, but nobody could hit the ball as hard as Austin,” Peder said.
Their first Class AA state appearance came as sophomores in 2000, when they finished true second in the section and earned one of the final spots in the most coveted tournament.
They lost 7-5, 6-4 in the first round to Prior Lake’s Brad Lindow and Tom Gilbert -- with no consolation bracket to fall back on -- but they came back stronger the next season.
“The first year was a bit of a learning curve, trying to figure out how you make it work because we’re so used to playing singles,” Peder said. “After that first year, we played a lot of tournament doubles in the summertime. … I think that helped us a lot in the second and third years, to really understand how we can take the strengths from our singles game and meld that into a successful doubles partnership.”
Lo and behold, their accomplishments multiplied in year two.
The juniors claimed the 2001 section championship outright, earning a state berth behind a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Elk River’s Dan Sheldon and Andy Rock. They didn’t stop there, defeating Jeremy Durgin and Erich Dummer of Chisago Lakes 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 7-5 in the state opener. In the quarterfinals, they then prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) over Lindow and Gilbert, exacting revenge over the same duo that knocked them out of the 2000 tournament.
“As a parent, you’re so proud of your kids’ accomplishments, but as a coach, you’re trying to keep perspective,” Scott said. “It’s pretty hard to do and not just focus on your kid. You’re kind of over the moon at something your kid accomplishes. He gets to share that with a good friend, and (me) being able to work with both kids, it’s pretty special.”
The duo placed fourth after losses in the semifinals and third-place matches. But they found themselves right back on the same stage as seniors in 2002, first topping Fergus Falls’ Josh Mohagen-Matt Johnson 6-4, 6-4 in the section title match for their second straight championship.
Anoka’s Matt Karst and Mike Joseph were their first victims at state, as Engelstad and Seaverson won 6-2, 6-4 in the Class AA opener. They again ran into a Prior Lake pair in the quarterfinals -- this time Tom and Mike Gilbert -- and the Bemidji duo prevailed 6-2, 6-2 to return to the final four.
“Just to get down there the initial year was special,” Scott said. “The next two years, they made it to the final day where they took fourth place. Pretty special memories for those two and for me as a coach. … Pretty special time for boys tennis.”
Again Engelstad and Seaverson placed fourth, eventually falling 6-3, 6-4 to Mounds View’s Tom Ahlstrom and Andrew Tulloch in the semifinals and then 7-5, 6-4 to Andy Spilseth and Ross Devor of Orono in the third-place match.
“They meant a lot to me, especially in the last year, going out on a high note with Austin,” Peder said. “Being able to look back and seeing what we accomplished, and also having my family there, (is special).”
Raising the bar
Since Engelstad and Seaverson, no Bemidji boys tennis player has reached state more than once. The two are believed to be the only in program history to make three straight appearances.
In fact, they were the first individuals to qualify for state in at least two decades, and only Sam Weaver and Ben Holter (doubles, 2009) and Nic Buffo (singles, 2018) have reached the same stage since.
“I can’t even say, before Austin and myself, when the last time an individual (boys) player was at state for Bemidji,” Peder said. “At the time, it felt very cool.”
The program has never won a section championship as a team, making the list of state participants all the more exclusive. Of the nine individuals who have qualified in the 21st century, six spots belong to Engelstad and Seaverson.
“It’s hard to put into words, but (it was a) pretty proud moment in my coaching career,” Scott said. “Not only were they able to do it once, but three times, and come home with some hardware.”
LUMBERJACK FLASHBACK SERIES
Boys tennis: The boys tennis tandem that reached unprecedented heights
Boys track and field: TBA
Girls track and field: TBA
Boys golf: TBA
Girls golf: TBA