FARGO-Monti Knewtson was clearly feeling fine as she jumped up and down and watched her teammates play a match-clinching tiebreaker. Knewtson was even more nervous than she was playing her own match.
Pooja Chemiti and Abby College could each hear their coach's voice in their heads guide them through the high pressure situation. Chemiti and College came out the victors, which meant an East Region girls tennis championship for West Fargo Sheyenne.
The Eastern Dakota Conference regular season champion and No. 1-seeded Mustangs shifted around their lineup and found the right combination to beat the defending state champion and No. 2-seeded Grand Forks Red River 3-2 for the region team dual title on Thursday, May 24, at Courts Plus.
"Going into it, the team thought our match could be the deciding match. We all felt that pressure and wanted to do well," College said. "I thought about my other teammates, and I really wanted to pull out the win for them."
This marked the third year in a row the Mustangs and Roughriders met in the East Region championship. The two teams met in the state championship the past two years as well, with the winner of the East Region going on to win state both years.
The Mustangs ended Red River's streak of 15 straight East Region tennis championships in 2016, also ending Red River's run of 203 straight dual victories since losing in the 2001 state championship. That same year, the Mustangs ended Red River's run of 14 straight state championships by winning their first state title in school history.
Red River came back last year and beat the Mustangs in the East Region title match, ending Sheyenne's 30-match winning streak, then took back the state championship crown with a 3-2 victory over the Mustangs.
This year's region championship could be yet another setup to a showdown in the state championship next week in Grand Forks in this back-and-forth fight for first. Red River head coach Greg LaDouceur admitted the Mustangs are the best team right now. But after some possible adjustments, he hopes the Roughriders defend their title.
"They got the wins where they needed them," LaDouceur said. "I think the girls are a little disappointed where it ended for them today. ... We just have some work to do and hopefully we get another chance at them next week."
Knewtson, the returning state singles champion who's been dealing with a hip injury, took the team tournament cautiously and didn't play until the region semifinals where she played at No. 1 singles. She then teamed up with Miranda Sommerfeld to play No. 1 doubles. She was agile and decisive in front of the net as the duo won 6-4, 6-4.
"We earned it. We had to work hard for this," Knewtson said. "They didn't give it to us. We had to work hard and earn this match."
The match started with exchanged wins in singles. Shaelyn Johnson, who lost to Knewtson in the state singles championship last season, beat Sheyenne's Preeti Chemiti in No. 1 singles 6-1, 6-0. The Mustangs got one back and won the No. 2 singles matchup with Mimi Gu's 6-0, 6-1 victory.
With Sommerfeld and Knewtson's win, the Mustangs just needed a win at No. 2 doubles. LaDouceur said, despite Red River's best preparation, the Mustangs had a player in both doubles matches who could dominate. Still, Pooja, one of Sheyenne's top singles players, was nervous. She had a feeling her match could be a tipping point for the team victory.
"We were all determined to win," Pooja said. "I think all the matches were really important. I think Abby and I played really well. I think overall it went really well for us."
Singles: 1, S. Johnson, GFRR, def. Pr. Chemiti 6-1, 6-0. 2, Gu, WFS, def. K. Johnson 6-0, 6-1. 3, Huebner, GFRR, def. Sundlie, 5-7, 6-0, 6-3.
Doubles: 1, Knewtson/Sommerfeld, WFS, def. Kennelly/Caoili 6-4, 6-4. 2, Po. Chemiti/College, WFS, def. Krogh/Pokrzywinski 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).