Season Preview: Fresh faces, depth to power Packers girls tennis
This rather pleasant spring weather that has enveloped the northland is an anomaly, especially for area athletic teams conditioned to cramming a season's worth of competition into a few short weeks.
Teams were given precious time to prepare for the season, and for most sports this has been a blessing. But for girls tennis, there still is one aspect of spring that is tough to deal with, no matter how much sun is shining.
"Wind is not in our vocabulary," West Fargo girls tennis coach Chad Anderson said, with a laugh.
Though gusty weather plays havoc on tennis balls, Anderson admitted it has been nice to get outside in lieu of a gymnasium, and what he's seen so far with his group of players has been impressive.
"We should have another good year," he said. "We have a lot of depth and a lot of new players coming up."
Last season, the Packers finished with a dual conference record of 5-2, and 8-7 overall. They placed fifth out of 16 teams during the West Fargo Invitational, and finished third at the East Region tournament to qualify for the state tournament. The only teams the Packers lost to during the regular season were Fargo South and Grand Forks Red River.
This season, West Fargo has kicked things off on the right foot. The Packers opened conference play last Tuesday with an 8-1 victory over Fargo Shanley. Before that, West Fargo headed to Bismarck for an East-West Crossover, in which the Packers finished 2-1 after defeating both Century and Jamestown, and falling to St. Mary's.
Leading the Packers are a mix of veteran talent and fresh faces, something Anderson sees as a benefit. The player with the most impact, however, is the girl in the No. 1 singles slot.
"One thing we did really well last year ... we had a lot of depth and a really good No. 1 player, which has kind of dictated the other matches," Anderson said. "When you have a good No. 1, that helps a lot.
This year, that distinction goes to Coach Anderson's daughter, Beth.
Beth Anderson has compiled a slew of honors through her six varsity seasons, including being named to three consecutive All-EDC teams, as well as earning a spot on the All-State team last season. During her junior year last season, Beth finished with a 10-4 singles record and a 4-5 doubles record. In tournament play, she placed third at the East Region and sixth at state.
"That's the highest anyone has ever placed at (state from) West Fargo," Coach Anderson said. "She has a really good chance at being in that top five this year.
"She has a lot of experience and will be a good leader."
During West Fargo's conference opener against the Deacons, Beth Anderson posted a 6-0, 6-0 shutout over senior Tory Rust. Anderson then paired with junior Megan Broton to win their doubles match 6-2, 4-6 (10-2).
And the remainder of West Fargo's talent doesn't peter out after Beth.
"We have a bunch of girls that could go just about anywhere," Anderson said.
He pointed to juniors Cassie Smith and Broten, who "will be right up there, they'll be in the top 4 or 5." Broten finished last season 5-4 in singles, and was 7-7 alongside Smith. Against Fargo Shanley, Broten won her singles match 6-0, 6-1, and Smith won hers 6-2, 6-2.
This season, the doubles teams have been mixed up a bit. Cassie will be paired with her sister; eighth-grader Sammie Smith. Last season, Sammie went 7-3 in singles (Cassie was 5-4) and finished third in the fourth flight of the West Fargo Invitational. The duo also posted a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Shanley last Tuesday.
Another top returner will be Sarina Olson, who finished with a 4-5 singles record last season, and was 7-5 in doubles with Jill Bechtold.
Though only a sophomore, Olson will have some big shoes to fill, Coach Anderson said. The multi-sport athlete "will have to fill the void of our senior last year (Ann Dai)," he said. "I think (Olson will) come back, even if she is a bit rusty from playing basketball." She's already on her way after picking up a 6-2, 6-1 win last week as the No. 2 seed.
Bechtold stands to make strides this season after being voted Most Improved with Cassie Smith and Broten last season.
"She's been real strong, and has improved every year," Coach Anderson said.
Bechtold will be paired with Olson as the No. 3 doubles team. The duo got their first conference win of the season against the Deacons with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
And a fresh face on the varsity squad this season stand to make an impact. Eighth grader Kaylee Stock "is going to come in and do well," he said. Last year, Stock placed first in the first flight of the singles junior varsity tournament.
"She's good young talent," Anderson said.
West Fargo has a solid bunch of eighth- and ninth-grade players who eventually will "really help us out," Anderson said. These include Brooke Christiansen, Katie Baasch, Mariah Stine, MacKenzie Tucker and Jaurdyn Dobler.
Coach Anderson thinks his varsity squad has what it takes to compete against tough EDC opponents, Grand Forks Red River in particular. The Roughriders have a state tournament win streak of 10 years, but "we've come in second a couple times, so we've done pretty good," Anderson said.
In the end, it's a matter of chemistry, and the Packers have a whole season to prove they have the right ingredients.
"We're going to put people where ... they need to go," he said. "The last person to hit the ball usually is the person to win."