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Packer tennis among the state's best

The West Fargo girls' tennis team wasted no time at all in picking up where it left off last season.

After breaking just about every team record last year - including attaining their highest placings ever at EDC (2nd) and state (4th) - the Packers shut out an opponent for the first time in eight years last week with a 9-0 win over Grand Forks Central.

The one-sided season opener proves last season's 9-4 record was far from a fluke. It also means the Packers are no longer underdogs every time they take the court.

"It shows last year wasn't really an accident and that we really do have some talent here," said junior Ann Dai. "We are established, but I think we still have to prove that we will do well because last year was really the first year that we were good."

The Packers will have to find ways to stay motivated. Surely it'll be difficult to match the thrill of last season's victory over Fargo South - the first in West Fargo's history.

"Instead of always being that underdog, now we're being hunted," said Packer coach Chad Anderson, last season's North Dakota coach of the year. "We're the team everyone wants to beat, because we're on top now. It's a completely different situation."

A majority of last year's team returns this season including four of the top six singles players. Senior Sadie Doggett will fill graduate Jessie John's No. 1 singles spot. Doggett was 8-3 at No. 2 singles last season and made the all-conference team.

She'll be followed at No. 2 singles by another all-conference player, Beth Anderson, the coach's daughter. Beth was 15-9 at No. 3 singles last year - including a sixth place finish in EDC individual competition. She's returning from an ACL tear suffered during fall basketball.

"Once she gets over that worry about hurting it again, she'll do well," said Chad Anderson.

Dai, 8-5 last season, will follow at No. 3 singles. Senior Merema Ahmed will play No. 4 singles after a 7-4 season last spring. Haley Johnston, last year's No. 5 singles player, chose not to play tennis this year. No. 5 will likely be filled by rookie eighth-grader Sarina Olson, while No. 6 will be occupied by rookie freshman Cassie Smith.

"They are both doing amazing," said Ahmed of the newcomers. "We hope to do even better than last year. Our win over Central was definitely a good way to start it all this year."

Beth and Doggett will compete at No. 1 doubles. The two were a combined 18-8 in doubles action last year with various partners. Dai and Ahmed will pair up at No. 2 doubles. They were 1-4 together during late season action last year. The No. 3 doubles combination will be Olson and freshman Megan Broton, 0-2 last year.

"The chemistry on the team seems to be different this year. It's hard to explain," said Chad Anderson. "Last year it kind of hit us by surprise that we did so well, and this year everybody knows what we can do now."

Six-time defending state champion Grand Forks Red River is expected to once again lead the EDC, while the Packers and Fargo South are favorites to be conference runner-ups.

"I have the confidence now that the girls can do what they need to do," said Chad Anderson. "We've talked a lot about it, and the girls are ready for the challenge this year. When you win, the confidence is there, and it's so much easier."

The Packers will compete for their third consecutive trip to the state tournament after ending a 25-year drought in 2006.