Filippo Buffo has only been a Lumberjack for one year, but he will certainly leave his mark in the Bemidji High School boys tennis record books.

The BHS senior and Italian exchange student qualified for the Class AA individual state tournament after capturing the Section 8AA singles title last week.

Buffo’s section singles title is believed to be the first by a Bemidji player in at least 40 years.

“I’m happy that we’re going to state, with the team, too,” Buffo said Monday, prior to the Jacks’ first appearance in the team state tournament since 1973. Bemidji suffered a 7-0 loss to second-seeded Edina in Tuesday’s quarterfinal match. “We’re going to try our best and see how it’s going to go.”

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But Buffo isn’t the first Lumberjack to qualify for the singles state tournament.

Older brother Nic Buffo advanced to state in 2018 as section runner-up while also spending his senior year in Bemidji as an exchange student.

The Buffos have made themselves at home in Bemidji, specifically the home of the McNallan family. Both brothers have lived with the McNallans, who have hosted exchange students in Bemidji for a number of years.

Brothers Nic Buffo (left) and Filippo Buffo take a breather during a practice at the BHS tennis courts on Monday, June 7, 2021. Nic qualified for state as a BHS senior in 2018, while Filippo will make his state tournament debut this week. (Austin Monteith / Bemidji Pioneer)
Brothers Nic Buffo (left) and Filippo Buffo take a breather during a practice at the BHS tennis courts on Monday, June 7, 2021. Nic qualified for state as a BHS senior in 2018, while Filippo will make his state tournament debut this week. (Austin Monteith / Bemidji Pioneer)

“If it wasn’t for (Nic), I wasn’t going to come here,” Filippo said. “I like the family. … They feel like a second family for me.”

Junior John McNallan and eighth-grader Jack McNallan are also members of the boys tennis team, but they’ve been more than just teammates for the Buffos, who hail from Legnago, Italy.

“We’re basically like brothers honestly,” John McNallan said. “We’re super close. I stay in the same room with (Filippo), so we basically do everything together. It’ll be hard to see him leave, but it’s been fun to have him.”

In a case of good timing, Nic Buffo returned to Bemidji this week to spend some time with his brother, whom he had not seen in about nine months. The elder Buffo now plays tennis at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

“They’re both great tennis players and good people,” Jack McNallan said. “We’re about as close as brothers at this point.”

Unbeaten season

Filippo Buffo is accustomed to playing on the clay courts of Italy, but he has taken well to the hardcourts of the U.S.

The Lumberjack entered the week unbeaten on American soil at 24-0 on the season.

“I’m playing good tennis,” Buffo said. “I’m having fun.”

Buffo’s success has not altered his humility.

“One of the things that’s so nice about him is, with all of his talent and hard work ethic, he’s a really humble kid and a really great team-focused player,” head coach Kyle Fodness said. “He never comes in thinking that his ability gives him special status on the team.”

Buffo will open the 16-player state singles tournament by facing Orono’s Matias Maule, ranked No. 10 in Class AA, in the first round at 8 a.m. on Thursday, June 10, at Prior Lake High School.

Win or lose, Buffo will have fans on both sides of the Atlantic cheering for him.

“You’re always excited to see someone go to state,” Fodness said, “but especially when everybody on the team is rooting for him so much to go to state. That was really cool to see.”