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John's Journal: Long-Lasting Leadership Keys Mahtomedi Tennis Success

Six-Year Veterans Help Set The Tone, Build The Foundation For Zephyrs

Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2024 - 12:51 PM


Mahtomedi tennis players (left to right) Jack Allaben, Brandon Pham and Sam Rathmanner.


After the Mahtomedi Zephyrs won their final match in the team competition of the Class 2A boys state tennis tournament on Wednesday, the scene was alive with smiles and happiness. The team was awarded a shiny trophy, each of the players had a medal placed around their neck and parents snapped as many photos as they could.

The Zephyrs defeated Blake 4-3, and this was not in the state championship match. The win over Blake meant the Zephyrs finished third, but the celebration and post-match mood wouldn’t have been much different if they had finished as state champs.

The tournament continues Thursday and Friday with singles and doubles competition, with the Zephyrs hoping for more fine results. Once the week and the tennis season is done, there will be much to be proud of. The success of the tennis program has been building for a long time, including a season lost to Covid and camaraderie that is the hallmark of any successful group.

Aaron Freer became Mahtomedi’s head coach in 2019, and when the prospective players first gathered, he noticed a couple of small, young kids, Sam Rathmanner and Jack Allaben.

“They came in as scrawny seventh-graders and I wasn't sure what to expect,” Freer said after Wednesday’s match at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center. “But as soon as they hit a ball, you could tell something was different.”

Sam and Jack are in their third year as team captains, receiving that designation as sophomores. Current junior Brandon Pham joined the team in 2021, and what those three have accomplished, nearly in lockstep with each other, is pretty incredible.

One day this season, Sam recorded his 100th career victory. The next day, Jack hit 100. About a week and half later … you guessed it … Brandon got to 100 wins.

“It's unbelievably rare,” Freer said of the trio of 100-win players. “It's been a gift that I don't think Mahtomedi will ever see again.”

The tone was set early. Sam had a record of 23-2 as a seventh-grader and Jack was 20-5. After their eighth-grade season was wiped out by the pandemic, Sam went 21-8, 24-4 and 28-4 in ninth through 11th grade. Jack’s marks in that time were 22-7, 22-3 and 31-1.

Sam, who is seeded second in the state singles bracket behind sophomore Tej Bhagra of Rochester Mayo, took a season record of 29-1 and a career mark of 125-19 into the state tournament. Brandon, seeded fourth, was 29-1 and 108-14. Jack, part of the fourth-seeded doubles team with senior Alden Wald, brought a 124-17 record to state (29-1 in 2024).

A year ago at state, Sam finished third in singles. All three have played at state in the doubles bracket, as well. This week, Sam, Jack and Brandon played at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 singles and each went 3-0 in three team matches.

“They have a story of friendship, tennis and so much more,” Freer said. “They have pushed one another, guided the team, shown heart and determination and left an unrivaled legacy. They've spent the last several years training together. They play together and they’ve been leading the program.”

Rathmanner and Allaben are among five seniors on the team, along with Wald, Maxwell Hendrickson and William Lieberman.

“Jack and I have known each other since kindergarten,” Sam said. “We work pretty well together as captains. He's kind of like the tech guy, I run the Instagram page, he definitely does more than I do. We just work really well together. I might be a little louder on court, but he kind of helps everyone out.

“It's been a fun journey, kind of seeing how the team has changed over the past six years, getting new friends throughout all the years and just kind of seeing how not only we have progressed as players but how the team has progressed and how our chemistry has gotten stronger over all the years.”

Sam will play college tennis at the University of Richmond in Virginia, and Jack will attend Georgia Tech. They will depart their high school with lots of lifelong memories.

“It's really exciting,” said Jack. “Every year has been fun in a different way. And it's awesome that the last year that we have with this team is our best result at state.”

Next season, there will be leadership spots waiting to be filled. Pham and classmates John Aufderhar, Zachary Burge, Maxwell Milbrandt and Luke Roettger will be seniors in 2025.

“There will be a lot of big shoes to fill,” Brandon said.

A foundation has been set by the 2024 seniors, and that’s important.

“They have just always bought into the team first,” Freer said of the team leaders. “They've stayed after practice, after I had to go, and helped other teammates with their strokes and said, ‘Here's what you need to work on.’ ”

That work, that dedication, that commitment, that team spirit … look at the results.

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] or [email protected] 

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