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Underdogs no more

West Fargo's Sammie Smith hits a return against Sammy Anderson of Grand Forks Red River in the finals of the East Region tournament Thursday in Grand Forks. John Stennes / Forum Communications Co.

By Tyler Shoberg

After finishing as regular-season runners up and runners up at the East Region Tournament last Thursday, the West Fargo girls tennis team finds itself in a unique situation.

"For such a long time, we were always the underdog, and now we're the team that everyone is hunting again," coach Chad Anderson said.

It's true that undefeated and perpetual state champion Grand Forks Red River is the indisputable top dog after successfully defending its conference crown once again last week. But the Packers have made a name for themselves this season, too; one that was shouted loud and clear during conference meet in Grand Forks.

For the second year in a row, West Fargo (7-1 EDC, 13-3 overall) finished runner-up to the Roughriders (8-0, 11-0) in the team tournament. By doing so, however, they discovered a chink in Red River's perceivably invincible armor.

Last year, the Riders beat West Fargo 5-0 in the title matchup. This year, it was by a slightly closer 4-1 margin.

"It was nice to get at least one win there," Anderson said. "But they still are a very good team and definitely the team to beat."

That lone Red River loss came from the Packers doubles team of Katie Baasch and Mariah Stein, who defeated Paige Relling and Alexos Caoili 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Anderson said that victory over top foes helped spark the Packers duo en route to a lofty finish in the dual competition.

"I think that's what catapulted them. You could see the confidence," he said.

Baasch and Stein would go on to eventually beat Fargo Davies' Heidi Wanzek and Elli Hoge 6-0, 6-4 for fifth place, and earn a spot at the state tournament.

"That was big," Anderson said. "They were seated ninth, so they had one heck of a tournament."

Several other Packers also had big days.

Sammie Smith, Kaylee Stock and Sarina Olson were named to the All-EDC team. It was the second consecutive year for Smith and Olson.

All three won their respective place matches, giving West Fargo a total of four place winners at this year's conference tournament.

"I don't think we've ever put this many girls into singles and then have them finish as well as they did," Anderson said.

Smith and Stock battled through the individual tournament only to eventually face off against each other in the third-place title match. Smith beat her teammate 6-2, 6-1 for third place, relegating Stock to fourth.

Olson qualified individually for state by beating Shanley's Olivia Keelin 6-4, 6-4 in the consolation quarterfinals, before finishing fifth overall after defeating Janelle Wanzek of Fargo Davies 6-4, 6-1. Olson improved on last year's finish, when she took sixth after falling to Fargo North's Emily Jacobson 6-3, 6-0.

West Fargo's final honor came for their leader, as Anderson was named EDC Coach of the Year for the third season in a row.

"That was really surprising. I must be doing something right," he said.

The state tournament kicks off Thursday at Fargo-area courts. In the first round of the team tournament, East meets West as No. 2 West Fargo faces No. 3 Bismarck Century (5-2 WDA, 10-4 overall) at 1 p.m. Thursday at Island Park. The two teams are no strangers this season, however: the Packers defeated the Patriots 7-2 on April 20.

Individual competition begins Friday at Elephant Park. For West Fargo's representatives, East No. 4 Stock takes on West No. 5 Alicia Beck of Bismarck St. Mary's; East No. 3 Smith faces West No. 6 Ban Dodin of Minot; and West No. 4 Sara Muhs of Jamestown squares off against East No. 5 Olson.

Doubles competitions also starts Friday at Courts Plus. West Fargo's Baasch and Stein, the East No. 5 team, will fend off West No. 4 Shelby Gustafson and Amanda Hillstrom of Mandan.

Anderson said his Packers know the competition only gets fiercer at the state level, but he thinks they will be ready.

"When it gets to the state tournament, nothing is ever easy, and we found that out last year," he said. "We had a good tournament, but didn't get where we thought we should be. Hopefully, this year, we can turn that round."