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West Fargo girls tennis hot from the get-go

West Fargo's Sarina Olson hits a return during a match against Grand Forks Central on Thursday at West Fargo High School. David Samson / Forum Communications Co.1 / 2
West Fargo's Sammie Smith serves during Thursday's match. David Samson / Forum Communications Co.2 / 2

It seems like the spring weather has been uncharacteristically hot.

Coincidentally, so has the West Fargo girls tennis team.

Not only do the Packers currently sit atop the East Region standings at 2-0 against conference foes and 4-1 overall, but they've bested teams that, in coach Chad Anderson's recollection, haven't been beaten in years.

"The girls have worked hard over the winter and put in lots of time," Anderson said. "It's what you have to do if you want to be a contender."

All-conference senior Sarina Olson echoed that sentiment.

"We're feeling really good right now," said Olson, who plays No. 3 singles as well as No. 1 doubles alongside sophomore Samantha Smith. "We've been practicing a lot in the offseason."

That practice has been apparent in West Fargo's ability on the court.

The Packers' season began Tuesday with an 8-1 thumping of Fargo South, a team that beat the West Fargo twice last year: once in their last regular season game and then in the consolation semifinal match that knocked the Packers out of the state tournament.

Winning their season opener was a great achievement; playing their season opener without delays, postponements or cancellations because of wintry weather was a big bonus.

"It's been nice," Smith said. "I get so sick of playing inside."

The Packers followed suit with three more victories - 9-0 over Grand Forks Central, 7-2 over Bismarck Century, and 3-2 over Bismarck St. Mary's - before picking up their first loss of the season on Saturday afternoon.

It was close, but Minot, whom Anderson said West Fargo has never played during the regular season, came out on top 5-4.

Still, it was a close margin of victory, and had the Packers not been worn out from a long week of back-to-back competition, the end result may have been different.

"After Minot, when they hit the bus, it was dead silent because everyone passed out cold," Anderson said, with a laugh.

He noted, however, that the streak of matches and West Fargo's success does tell something important about the team.

"It gives us an idea of what (other teams) have for talent, and lets us measure where we're at in the state, as well as physically and mentally," he said.

And when it comes to measuring up, the Packers have at least two players who literally stand out above the rest: juniors Brooke Christensen and Mariah Stein.

"I call them the 'Twin Towers,'" Anderson said.

Christensen and Stein are West Fargo's tallest players (Anderson could not say exactly how tall, but estimated Christensen at 5 feet, 9 inches and Stein at 5-foot-11), and as the No. 3 doubles team, commands attention on the court. But they possess talent, too, as evident by a 4-1 record; their lone lost a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 battle against Minot.

"One of the other coaches came up to me and said, 'My girls keep wanting to hit through them, and it doesn't work,'" Anderson said.

But while the No. 3 doubles team may draw the most attention, the Packers have plenty of talent throughout their rank, starting with Smith.

Smith is a returning all-conference and all-state doubles player with her since-graduated sister, Cassie. She also takes over in the No. 1 singles spot, which has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team, Anderson said.

"I think have a good No. 1 in Smith really sets the tone," he said.

Olson and Smith also have been paired up as the top doubles team, a move that seems to be working out very well.

Smith, who played with her sister last year in the same spot, said it's been very easy getting along with her new doubles partners.

"It's Sarina," she said, matter-of-factly. "Of course it's been fun."

The duo has been together in four of West Fargo's five matches, and has a 3-1 record to show for it. The chemistry, obviously, is there.

That same bond is tight through the team, and after finishing runner-up in the EDC regular season and at the conference meet, the Packers are hoping for another strong season this year.

But first, there's just one teeny, tiny obstacle to overcome.

"Red River is going to be a big hurdle to get past," Olson said, of the perennial state powerhouse.

For the Packers to do that, they'll need to continue the way they started the season: strong.

"We're a good team, and I think the girls are starting to learn how to play with each other," Anderson said. "This year, we're deep, but we're still looking for that seventh player to step up."