Season Preview: Girls Tennis
North Dakota girls tennis teams are faced with a tough road: an entire season condensed into less than a month.
"It's going to be difficult," West Fargo coach Chad Anderson said. "Our season already is short and now pretty much all of April is gone."
The Packers, along with the rest of the East and West Regions, will be forced to focus on conference matchups. Disappointing results of a too-cold spring that, even with clear courts, can make play difficult.
"When it gets below 40 degrees and you can't feel the racket in your hands, that doesn't make for good tennis," Anderson said.
The only positive is that everyone is in the same boat, which means while West Fargo will have little time to shore up its flights, so will every other team in the state. It's a bittersweet silver lining that will make this year more of a sprint than a marathon.
The Packers, however, may have a bit of momentum on their side. After finishing the year 5-2 against EDC opponents and 11-5 overall, they went on to take second place at the East Region meet before culminating the year with their best finish ever at state: third place.
"If someone would have told me at the beginning of last year that we'd get third at state, I'd have said they were crazy," said Anderson, who was named Conference Coach of the Year.
Though West Fargo may reel a bit from the loss of one of its strongest competitors for the past six years, they have a core of young athletes who could make the Packers a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
Who to watch
The Packers biggest loss comes from Beth Anderson, who graduated last spring and currently is finishing up her freshman year at North Dakota State University.
"She's enjoying it," Chad Anderson said of his daughter's first year of college. "She's talking about going premed."
While her academics are taking priority at NDSU, it was Beth Anderson's athletic feats that may have garnered the most attention during her six years with the Packers. As a senior, she finished with a 6-4 regular-season record in first flight singles, while also placing fourth at the East Region meet and making it as far as the consolation second round of state. Beth Anderson's prep career was punctuated by four straight All-Conference honors.
In short, replacing a loss like her won't be easy.
"It'll be tough," Chad Anderson said. "But with the young talent coming up, I think we'll do just fine. We're probably not as deep this year, but that's OK because this will give the younger girls a chance to assert themselves."
Part of West Fargo's punch will come from the Smith sisters, Cassie and Samantha. Cassie Smith, a senior, and Samantha Smith, a freshman, will fill in the No. 1 and 2 flights, as well as combine for the first flight doubles team.
Last season, Cassie Smith was fifth flight singles, finishing with an 8-2 record. At the East Region and State meets, Chad Anderson bumped her to third flight, where she won all matches except one. She also played doubles with her sister. The pair finished with an 8-2 record, and placed fourth at EDC and made it as far as the consolation second round at state.
Samantha Smith and Sarina Olson also earned All-Conference honors last year. Samantha Smith was third flight, finishing 8-2 on the year, while Olson, currently a junior, was second flight and finished with a 5-5 record. Olson will be No. 3 singles this season, and freshman Kaylee Stock with be No. 4.
The remaining two singles spots will come down to three sophomores: Katie Baasch, Mariah Stein and Brooke Christensen. With the lineup taking shape, Chad Anderson said it is the first year since he began seven years ago that the Packers haven't had a seventh- or eighth-grader on the team.
To him, all the young blood is a sign of good things to come for the team.
"This year, for the freshman coming in, I had 10 girls. Usually I get one or two," he said. "If we can continue to draw in young players, we'll do well."
As for competition, little time on the calendar means a schedule dominated by conference play.
"Last year, Fargo South was our big team to beat, and we really came strong at the end. So I think it'll be pretty much the same as last year," Chad Anderson said.
And, of course, there's powerhouse Grand Forks Red River, which swept last year as regular-season conference champs, East Region meet champs and State Champs.
"Well, Red River goes without saying," he said.