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1971 Lincoln High School Boys Tennis Team

by Tom Clayton

 

It was a glorious year for the 1971 Lincoln High School Boysí Tennis team, which dominated South Dakota state high school tennis since the first year of Lincolnís existence in 1965-66. 

 Lincoln came to 1971 with great depth.  Since the schoolís  inception, the boysí tennis team had lost only two meets Ė both 5-4 squeakers to Sioux City Central, a perennial powerhouse in Iowa high school tennis.  The previous year, Lincoln won 8 of 9 dual meets and won the state tournament. 

 Depth played greatly to Lincolnís advantage in 1971. The SD  state tournament was changed from only the top players of each school competing in a singles and doubles flight format, to one consisting of four singles and two doubles draws. 

 Returning starters Billy Clayton and Randy Kochenderfer played and won the state tournament the year before.  Lincolnís team was so deep, in fact, that ten players were returning veterans who undoubtedly would have started for any other high school team.  Junior Greg Wilcox, who transferred from Anaheim, California, and Senior Mike Reardon, originally from Sioux Falls and who attended private school prior years in Connecticut, added to Lincolnís power.

 Don Erickson, an assistant basketball coach for Lincoln, volunteered to replace Bill Thompson, who left Lincoln for graduate school. Dave Kinney had been the only other Lincoln coach.  Kinney saw his teams win state tournaments every year but one, losing to Brookings in 1969.

 The 1971 team rolled through its opponents with crushing precision.  It won every meet, including a 5-4 revenge decision over rival Sioux City Central, and compiled an overwhelming 100-6 combined match record.  One meet was so lopsided that Coach Erickson remembered his players switching racket hands in the middle of their singles matches, and still soundly defeating their Sioux City Heelan opponent.

 The greatest tension of 1971 for this dominating team was who would play Number One:  Senior Randy Kochenderfer or Senior Billy Clayton.  Clayton suffered permanent injury to his tennis hand during a snowblower accident in 1970, which did not stop him from receiving a tennis scholarship to Northwestern University but shortened his playing career.  Kochenderfer was a gifted natural athlete who played with grace and stamina.  The two battled fiercely for the No. 1 spot, with Clayton prevailing.

 At the State Tournament, Clayton, Kochenderfer, Wilcox and Reardon each won their respective flights in the 10-game proset format.  Clayton/Kochenderfer and Wilcox/Reardon then teamed up to win both doubles flights.  Lincoln played and won each of its 22 matches, sweeping every flight and receiving the highest number of points in the tournament formatís inaugural year Ė a feat that has never been equalled.

 It was the first and last year Don Erickson would coach Lincolnís tennis team.  Don was selected head coach for Washingtonís basketball team.

 Billy Clayton is currently an attorney with a national law practice.  His children are all active tennis players.  Randy Kochenderfer became an architect, who passed away tragically in 1992 due to a rare form of cancer.  He played tennis for four years for Augustana College.

 Greg Wilcox also played four years at Augustana.  He lives in Sioux Falls, and is an executive with Good Samaritan.  Mike Reardon followed family tradition and is a banker in Phoenix.

 Craig Lauer, who played Number 5 singles and Number 3 doubles with Ken Vesledahl, is married, works for Qwest and lives in Salt Lake City.  Craig also briefly played college tennis.  Ken Vesledahl graduated from St. Olaf and is an attorney with a national law firm in Dallas, Texas. 

 Lincoln went on to win other high school state tennis championships, but the teamís 1971 accomplishment was so significant that it merits the South Dakota Tennis Hall of Fame Achievement Award for 2009.