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Zieske & sports ‘family’ overcome adversity

FOREHAND WINNER — Fairmont Cardinals singles player Tyrell Zieske hammers a forehand winner from the baseline during tennis action last spring at the Cardinal Courts in Fairmont. Zieske will join the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in June. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells/Sentinel Archives)

FAIRMONT — “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Tyrell Zieske truly understands the meaning of John Steinbeck’s famous line from his 1937 novella, “Of Mice and Men.”

Zieske and fellow senior co-captain Aaron Hendricks created workout practices for their Fairmont tennis teammates to implement on the Cardinal Courts during the Minnesota State High School League’s official first day of practice on March 23.

Zieske and Hendricks, in conjunction with cinematographic assistance from teammate Ameya Komaragiri and a physical enactment by Cardinals netter Blake Haugen, even produced an entertaining but useful conditioning video for the rest of head coach Eric Johnson’s spring program.

Zieske also had organized a Zoom supper with his fellow Fairmont netters and coach to kick off a promising campaign on the courts, but none of the Cardinal co-captain’s preseason hard work came to fruition due to the COVID-pandemic, the MSHSL’s shutdown on March 13 and its ensuing complete cancellation of the spring sports season on April 28.

“Like everyone else competing in spring sports, it’s disappointing to have the entire season called off,” said Zieske, who combined with then-senior Pete Ortega at No. 1 doubles to capture the Cardinals’ only point during a Section 1A team quarterfinal loss to Schaeffer Academy last spring. “We had a lot of players with varsity experience returning this year, so we had a positive outlook that we had a good shot at advancing further into the playoffs this time.

“That’s life. You never really know when your last tennis meet will be, and it is what it is. It’s not like we’re being singled out, so we have to remember that we’re all in this (situation) together.”

Zieske, who earned the No. 1 position in the Cardinals’ singles bracket a year ago, opted for tennis as his favorite prep sport, although he admitted cross country during the fall season ranks a close second due to their similarities.

“Both sports have the atmosphere of being one big family to me,” said Zieske. “I’ve run with some amazing people in cross country, but in tennis, you can always go out and hit with the guys and talk out whatever’s bothering you.

“They’re both great sports.”

Ironically, Zieske’s family connection of combining hitting skills with Pete Ortega from the tennis postseason last spring carried over into cross country last fall.

“It seemed like I always placed fourth on our team, and I was always trying to catch Tony Ortega (Pete’s brother), who seemed to always place third for us,” said Zieske, who contributed counting scores to help pace the Fairmont boys cross country lineup to third-place showings at the Paul Metcalf Invitational in Mountain Lake, the Turkey Trot in Worthington and the Bucs’ Invite at Riverside Town & Country Club near Blue Earth. “I think Tony and I kept improving our individual times as the season progressed, so I was happy about that.”

In fact, Zieske earned the Fairmont boys cross country team’s most improved award for his steady footwork and endurance on the area trails.

Zieske then continued his “family” trend by working with fellow long-distance runner Connor Artner, along with Hendricks and Haugen, in robotics during the winter time.

“Robotics is challenging because you have a six-week time frame to build a robot within the specifications and scoring (criteria) in a game,” said Zieske. ” … The bottom line is you try to maximize the points you can score in a minimum build time.”

Now, with his senior tennis season officially cancelled, Zieske keeps himself busy by working at an area grocery store when he’s not completing course work for four in-school classes and four PSEO (postsecondary enrollment options) courses.

So why is Zieske carrying such a lofty and challenging academic workload during his final semester of high school?

“I learned last year that if I enter the Air Force with 45 (college) credits, I can start my military career as an E3 instead of an E1, which is a better paygrade,” said Zieske. “I figured if I can take the PSEO classes for free in high school, I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to put me further ahead in my career.”

After high school graduation on June 7, Zieske will sign a contract with the U.S. Air Force, with a job as a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) specialist guaranteed if he passes all of his upcoming military tests.

“Basically, I’ll be an instructor for special warfare and pilots coming into the Air Force. I’ll teach them how to survive in different elements throughout the world,” said Zieske.

Zieske then reports to a processing center in Minneapolis on June 30, signs another contract and later reports to basic training in San Antonio.

“My parents (Lindsay and Stephen Dodge) already had planned to move to Texas based on their careers. They were just waiting for me to graduate high school,” said Zieske.

While Zieske has a distinct plan for his future, with only the sky being the limit, what’s his advice for future Fairmont graduates?

“Appreciate every day, and if this (pandemic) were to happen again in the future, don’t panic. Be smart on how you go about your daily life and realize we’re truly all in this together, like a family.”

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