Setting the tone: Casey Rupp leads Lumberjacks into competitive Section 8AA boys tennis gauntlet
Bemidji High School senior Casey Rupp brings consistency and leadership to the top of the boys tennis lineup.
BEMIDJI – Casey Rupp played a different role for the Bemidji High School boys tennis team a year ago.
In 2022, he finished his junior tennis season as a No. 4 singles player. The Lumberjacks fell short of their ultimate goal, losing to Becker in the section title match . A year later, Rupp occupies the No. 1 singles position in most matches, continuing a tradition of proven players and leading the charge for Bemidji.
“We’re pretty excited (for sections),” Rupp said. “It’s a quick season, but this is the time of the year when it really gets going, and the matches are big. Practice gets more intense, and you can really feel a buzz around here.”
The Jacks host Sartell on Wednesday , May 17, at the BHS tennis courts. They earned the second seed in the Section 8AA North Tournament with a 12-4 record. Bemidji got the better of the third-seeded Sabres in their only regular-season meeting with a 4-3 win . The winner advances to the semifinal round on Friday, May 17, at Sartell High School.
Like in many of Bemidji’s 12 wins this season, its doubles teams went unbeaten, and Rupp took care of business at the top of the lineup.
“It helps having a bunch of good teammates,” Rupp said. “Hitting with them this spring, and even in the winter a little bit, it’s nice to have people around you that you can hit with. That’s the biggest thing that helped me jump up (to No. 1 singles).”
While his wins are appreciated – and sometimes needed – BHS head coach Kyle Fodness leans on Rupp’s steady and calming presence that has worked wonders on a young team.
Rupp’s first postseason action came during his sophomore year when Bemidji snapped a 47-year section-title drought. He played in the Lumberjacks’ doubles ranks before playing a solo role in last year’s Section 8AA Championship match against Becker.
Bemidji depended on its aces to deliver in each of the last two seasons. Filippo Buffo made it to the Class AA State Individual Tournament in 2021. A year later, Matthieu Benhamou and Noah Johnson reached the Section 8AA Individual Tournament semifinals.
“You learn some things, but you also put your own stamp on it,” Fodness said of past No. 1 singles players. “The great thing about Casey is that he’s not trying to be anybody but himself. It’s one of the many reasons I enjoy coaching him. He’s going to put his own stamp on what it means to be a No. 1 singles player.
“To be that player, you have to be tough. You have to be tough to put away, tough to beat, tough to shake mentally. I think everybody puts their own spin and their own qualities on that position. I think that’s what Casey’s brought to that position this year.”
Rupp has experienced the triumph of clinching a state berth and the heartache of coming up short. His goal is to keep things simple, like the torch-bearers before him did.
“The biggest thing is playing your game like you practice,” Rupp said. “We’ve spent a lot of time practicing. Stick to what you’re doing. You have to hit consistently. That’s one of the biggest things about playoffs is you’re nervous, and you’re tired. But you have to find a way to stay consistent and loose. Just hit.”
The reality of tennis is Rupp’s efforts – on and off the court – could prove inconsequential. And in a loaded Section 8AA Tournament field, the Jacks are out of time to work out any kinks.
“It’s always tough,” Fodness said. “You’re in the top class with the big dogs. It’s how it’s always been. You have a lot of them, which means a lot of things have to go right (to win the section). You have to view it as an opportunity to be tested because, no matter what, you’re going to play a really good opponent.”
Fodness praised Sartell and its ability to contend with the traditional Section 8AA powers this spring, saying his boys can’t rest on the regular-season win over the Sabres from two weeks ago.
“They’re very athletic,” he continued. “They’ve improved a lot and have some new players that stepped up. They’ll present a good challenge, which is what you want when you get to the playoffs. You want a good challenge in every round, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Whether it ends in the first round of sections or in a state championship match, Rupp will finalize his tennis career at the top of the Jacks’ lineup. Before he heads to St. John’s to pursue a degree in business or finance, he hopes to deliver another memorable postseason for the BHS boys tennis team.
“It definitely has (set in) for me because of hockey,” Rupp said. “Now that I realize that my high school (hockey) career is done, it makes it more real for this one. I’ve already experienced what it’s like to have it end. I’m nervous and anxious. It’s kind of crazy to feel like you’re all done.
“We need to be vocal on the court, cheering everyone on, being vocal court to court and being supportive. If you show these guys that you’re under stress, it’s going to leak down to them. Keeping the team upright and calm will help a lot. That’s all you can do.”