Armstrong’s Snezhko takes third at state tennis

Sports Editor

Armstrong senior boys tennis player Nikita Snezhko has had one goal on his mind this season.

Armstrong’s Nikita Snezhko slides to a stop to return a ball during match action from the Class 2A state tournament last week. (Sun Post staff photo by Chris Chesky)

Take home the state singles title.

Snezhko breezed his way to the state singles tournament by not losing a set at the Section 5AA tournament, and was set on that not being his only title this season.

Snezhko came up just short of the state title, as an 0-6, 4-6 loss to Rochester Mayo’s Sebastian Vile in the state semifinal match sealed Snezhko’s third-place finish. Due to an injury to his opponent, Snezhko won his third-place match on a walkover.

“Looking back at the tournament, it was a tough two days and things didn’t go as great as I would have liked it to go, but tennis is a game where you can’t play your best every single given day and you have to adjust,” Snezhko said. “Hopefully this tournament sparks a turning point in my young career and I learn from my mistakes.

“I still have a bright future to look forward to, so this won’t be last time I’ll be able to redeem myself. I just have to keep my head high and keep reaching for the stars.”

Path to third

Snezhko opened the state tournament with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Mounds View seventh-grader Bjorn Swenson. Despite Snezhko’s success on paper, a blister on his right hand prevented him from playing his best tennis.

“I did not play good,” Snezhko said. “I have the blister on my hand, so I’m trying not to think about it as much and just play my game, but it is kind of hard.

“I will try to play better next match.”

Armstrong head boys tennis coach Jim Uhrich was just happy to see Snezhko pick up the victory.

“It was good to get it out of the way,” Uhrich said. “Personally I feel that was his worst match of the season and he won.

“He’s experienced, so it wasn’t nerves, but it was the injury. Sometimes when you’re not hitting your best shot it can snowball a little bit, but he was able to calm down. His big serve wasn’t on, but if you can win without playing your best, that’s a good sign.”

With roughly two hours between his matches, Uhrich hoped Snezhko would use that time to settle down.

“He just needs to clear his head here and relax,” Uhrich said. “He started out good, he was up 3-0 and then his hand started to bother him and nothing worked.

“I think he will be fine. He knows what he wants, he’s focused.”

Snezhko started his second match out well, but a rough ending almost forced a third set. Snezhko was able to regroup in time to finish out a 6-1, 7-5 victory in his second match of the day.

“My first match was kind of rough, so I had to regroup and try to play better,” Snezhko said. “I started out pretty loose and won the first set handily, but the second set I got a little too tight. I should have just played my game.”

Eastview eighth-grader Gavin Young, after struggling against Snezhko’s power in the first set, changed his approach in the second set, which threw off Snezhko.

“He’s a good grinder, he makes balls,” Snezhko said. “I overpowered him with my serve most of the time, but the rallies were longer than the first match.”

“He’s a good grinder, he makes balls,” Snezhko said. “I overpowered him with my serve most of the time, but the rallies were longer than the first match.”

“Gavin started playing better, he started making better shots, got into the rhythm of the game a little more and Nikita started making too many unforced errors,” Uhrich added. “If you let somebody hang around and your opponent gains confidence, momentum is a hard thing to break. He did buckle down at the end and he made the shots he needed to make.”

Looking ahead

Snezhko’s third-place finish at the state tournament not only rounded out his 2017 season, but also his career at Armstrong.

“It has been a long six years as a Falcon and I didn’t expect time to fly as fast as it did,” Snezhko said. “There were a lot of ups and downs through the years, but I’ve had lots of great memories and new friendships along the way that I’ll never forget.”

Snezhko will join the University of Iowa in the fall, where he will join the Hawkeyes’ tennis squad.

Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.