Logan Sandberg could have played the junior circuit in United States Tennis Association tournaments this summer and presumably racked up his share of trophies.

It was the final summer the 17-year-old Grand Forks Central senior could play youth tournaments in the 18-and-under age bracket.

He opted against it.

Sandberg, who rolled through last high school season without dropping a set en route to the 2020 North Dakota state boys singles title, decided to play the adult circuit instead, challenging his game against area college players among others.

For example, in Grand Forks, he ran into former University of Minnesota player Adam Altepeter. In Fargo, he ran up against Rudra Dixit from the University of Nebraska.

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"It was tough because the competition was pretty hard," Sandberg said. "It took me a little bit to adjust. It's different compared to playing juniors. The game play is different. Everyone is more consistent and is able to stay in points longer. Everyone can hit harder."

Now, Sandberg will get to see how much it has paid off.

Sandberg is back with Central and kicks off the high school season as the defending state singles champion and the favorite to win it again. He's trying to become the first two-time champion since Fargo South's Davis Lawley (2015, 2017) and the first to do it in back-to-back years since Red River's Greg Wischer in 2013 and 2014.

The last two-time singles champion at Central was Charlie Paukert in 2003 and 2004.

"I was really impressed last year with him never losing sight of that goal," Central coach Max Weisser said. "To not drop a set the entire season, that's really hard to do. You really have to be focused day in and day out. I would consider him a tennis junkie. You can't get him off the court. The guy just plays and plays and plays. When he's playing, he's doing tons of practicing and drills, because he's legitimately working on his weaknesses. That's tough for kids to do at that age. They all want to do what they're best at, but he's working to fix his weaknesses."

Another state singles title is not a foregone conclusion for Sandberg. The two players who pushed him the hardest last season also are back — Grand Forks Red River's Espen Schneider and Sandberg's Central teammate Ryder McDonald.

"One thing going for Logan is that Ryder McDonald, Cole Wilber and Evan Panzer are three of the better players in the state," Weisser said of Sandberg's Central teammates. "These are guys that, daily, get to push him. So, he gets to see daily what he has to do and know what he needs to work on. I do think that's a benefit. I really do."

Sandberg said he's worked a lot on his serve this summer. He's also played a lot of doubles, which has helped his net game. In recent weeks, Sandberg has started to develop a drop shot to mix things up during long baseline points.

"He's been playing up a level or two in tournaments for the last three years or so — not up to adults — but when he was 14, he was playing a lot of 18-and-unders," Weisser said. "It really showed him where the bar is and what it's going to take for him to accomplish those goals. He just wants to play college tennis somewhere. It could only benefit him playing in those adult tournaments and watching some of that really top quality tennis firsthand and picking up a couple tricks they're using."

Sandberg said his main reasons for moving up to adult tournaments are for extra challenges and because he wants to prepare himself to play college tennis. He is not currently committed anywhere.

Every two-time North Dakota state singles champions since 1990 has played college tennis — Lawley at Omaha, Wischer at Boise State, Grant Bakke and Josh Oothoudt at UND, Paukert at Gustavus and Blake Hankey at Minnesota Duluth. Sandberg would like to join that group by winning another singles title and landing a college roster spot.

"I want to get myself used to that kind of game play and the level of competition that's at," Sandberg said. "I feel like a lot of the adult tournaments is college players, so I wanted to get used to that."

But for now, it's back to high school, where the focus is on defending team and individual titles.

"I'm just really excited to get out and play my last year," Sandberg said. "It's a lot of fun to be playing with the team again. Trying to defend the team title and my individual title will be fun."

GF Central boys

Coach: Max Weisser.

Last season's finish: 15-0, East Region champions, state champions.

Key returners: Sr. Logan Sandberg (state singles champion), fr. Ryder McDonald (fifth place state singles), fr. Cole Wilber (fifth place state doubles), soph. Evan Panzer (state doubles champion), sr. Brad Flaten, soph. A.J. Spicer, sr. Tyson Sporbert, sr. Will Johnson.

Coach Weisser says: "You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself, but we definitely have the talent to be winning that title again this year. But Red River is going to be deep. They're going to be tough. You can never count Davies out. We definitely do have some big goals, but we have to improve. It's not like 2018, where we can show up and win. Our guys have to understand that they've got to improve day in and day out for our goals to be accomplished."

Grand Forks Central's Ryder McDonald hits a shot against Minot's Aidan Diehl in the ND State Tennis tournament in Grand Forks Thursday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks Central's Ryder McDonald hits a shot against Minot's Aidan Diehl in the ND State Tennis tournament in Grand Forks Thursday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GF Red River boys

Coach: Josh Lunak.

Last season's finish: 12-3, East Region runner-up, state runner-up.

Key returners: Soph. Espen Schneider (sixth place state singles), jr. Saylor Kuenzel, jr. Carson Skarperud, soph. Kellen Johnson.

Potential newcomers: Soph. Luc Bydal, fr. Asher Green, sr. Mason Barrett, soph. Jadon Tang.

Coach Lunak says: "I really like our four returners. They're super athletic, super talented kids who work really hard. I think they're going to be our leaders on the court. Espen should be a potential all-state selection (top five) in singles. We lost four seniors in our lineup from last year, but we have guys who have been waiting very patiently to get in the varsity line up and now they'll have that opportunity, and I think they're ready to step in full time. I think we'll be right up there."

Grand Forks Red River's Espen Schneider reaches for a return shot against Grand Forks Central's Logan Sandberg Tuesday at Riverside Courts.  Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks Red River's Espen Schneider reaches for a return shot against Grand Forks Central's Logan Sandberg Tuesday at Riverside Courts. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald