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Warrior Caitlin Steffen serves during a doubles match in practice last week at Forestview Middle School. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

Girls Tennis: Warriors anxious to play on new courts

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Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Eight shiny new tennis courts await the Brainerd Warrior girls team this fall.

The eight previous courts, which were in disrepair, were demolished last spring. Refurbished courts are being finished as part of the $3 million improvement project on the lower site behind Brainerd High School.

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The new courts are tentatively scheduled to be ready for the Warriors' Aug. 25 Camp Lake Hubert tournament. Until then, the Warriors will practice and play at the Forestview Middle School courts in Baxter.

"The junior high program doesn't start until school starts so we're able to use utilize that facility until then," Warriors coach Lisa Salo said, "and we're very fortunate that we can. It has worked just fine. We've adjusted to not being at the high school, but we can't wait until we're there. It will be amazing when we are. That facility will be one of the finest in the state.

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Girls tennis

Head coach: Lisa Salo, 10th season (1985-92, 2013-14)

2013 finish: 9-1 in CLC, 13-5-1 overall.

Returning regulars: Caitlin Steffen, Brooke Mimmack, Ashley Fitterer, Payge Fitterer, Claire Gunsbury, Hannah Moen, Emily Price, Kennedy Rusk

Captains: Steffen, Shayla Metz, Moen

Assistant coaches: Chad Anderson, Bruce Thompson

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"I'm excited that our seniors can experience having a top-notch facility. Our (five) seniors have put in their time in our program. All of them have played in our junior high program and most of them since their little tennis days when they were preschool girls in our summer program. (The new courts are) an appreciation for what they've done and will continue to do."

Caitlin Steffen is one of those seniors. The fourth-year varsity veteran will man the No. 1 singles position. She compiled a 21-7 record last season primarily at No. 2 singles.

"Caitlin truly has an all-court game," Salo said. "She can play the baseline, she can play the net, which is very important when playing that No. 1 position because you're going to meet every team's strongest singles player. You need to have a variety of tools and a variety of playing strategies and Caitlin has them.

"She's worked on her game all year long, she's put in the time, not just the technical pieces to her game, but the strategic pieces."

Juniors Brooke Mimmack and Ashley Fitterer return with the most postseason success. Last fall they won the North Subsection 8-2A doubles championship, placed third in Section 8-2A and finished 28-8 overall.

"They're very smart doubles players," Salo said. "They've played together for a number of years already.

"This summer they competed on the same Junior Team Tennis team but they didn't play doubles together. Brooke played more singles, Ashley played doubles with Claire Gunsbury. It was good to have them play apart a little bit. They were able to continue to grow their games, but they definitely will be strong players in the conference and section.

"They're excited. They hit all summer. They've started out at a high level. They've got more to go but they will get there."

Other regulars returning from the 2013 team that finished 13-5-1 overall include freshman Payge Fitterer, Gunsbury (a sophomore), senior Hannah Moen, and sophomores Emily Price and Kennedy Rusk.

Payge Fitterer went 15-10-1 primarily at No. 3 singles as an eighth-grader in her first season of varsity tennis.

"Payge worked on her serve this summer," Salo said. "She knew that was the piece of her game she needed to build. She's definitely put her time in, and it's showing already on the courts.

"She's also hitting with a lot more pace, depth and variety in her game. We see her primarily as a singles player because she has a lot of experience there."

Gunsbury went 20-7-1 primarily playing No. 2 doubles.

"We have to decide where to play Claire," Salo said. "She has acknowledged that she's interested and able to play singles and doubles. We're going to have to see where the best fit will be for her. It may be dependent upon the competition we're meeting. We could swing her back and forth (between singles and doubles). We're looking to see what doubles combination would work the best."

Moen was 12-12 primarily at No. 3 doubles with Rusk, who was 13-7.

"They clicked," Salo said. "They helped each other get stronger. They have complementary styles.

"Hanna's coming off a lot of success in her other sports, Alpine skiing and golf. She has such natural tennis skills. Now she's working on consistently stringing shots together to build points. We see her probably in a doubles role.

"Kennedy has great experience from last year in the No. 3 doubles spot. She and Hannah really had some tight matches against some good competition. They grew a lot in their knowledge of doubles competition and the strategic pieces.

"Kennedy's a very strong player. We're having her work more on developing soft hands with net her play."

Price finished the season as the Warriors' No. 4 singles player, going 8-8.

"Emily's hitting with more pace and more confidence, that was her focus," Salo said. "Over the summer she worked on her game and it's showing. She's going to be able to use those strokes and build those strategies. She's got the confidence and the pace."

Others returning with varsity experience, who are competing for spots this fall, include seniors Hailey Hinrichs, Shayla Metz and Claire Siekas and juniors Jenna Swenson, Hannah Spitzley and Megan Wroolie.

Salo expects 2-time defending conference and section champion St. Cloud Tech to again be formidable but the Warriors embrace the challenge of meeting formidable opponents.

"We know what we can control, our effort, how hard we work in practice, our skill development, our mental toughness, our preparation," Salo said. "We will be ready to compete against every team we meet.

"Tech is definitely going to be the favorite team in the section, but we will prepare for them. We will control all the things we can control.

"We have skilled players. We're a skilled team. We have depth. Now it's building competitiveness and confidence and the strategy piece of being able to compete well against a team that is strong.

"We want to compete against (Tech) and every team we meet. We can't wait. We're looking forward to it."

Warriors Roster

Seniors: Hailey Hinrichs, Shayla Metz, Hannah Moen, Claire Siekas, Caitlin Steffen

Juniors: Madi Exsted, Ashley Fitterer, Maura Halverson, Brooke Mimmack, Hannah Spitzley, Jenna Swenson, Abby Thorkelson, Molly West, Megan Wroolie

Sophomores: Eva Dabill, Jessica Ernster, Claire Gunsbury, Emily Price, Amanda Rahto, Kennedy Rusk, Emily Schwaderer, Kiera Schweitzberger, Sydney Stock, Isabel Thompson, Victoria Vesely, Sarah Wiger

Freshmen: Maria Bell, Payge Fitterer, Kristiana Galema, Megan Hensel, Libby Kurtzman, Mallory Maine, Mikaela Maki, Hannah Rud, Nicole Rud, Kirsten Schroer, Hannah Trtanj

Student managers: Jordan Kleist, Jacob Norr, Theo Knudson

Warriors Schedule

Aug 18, Quad at Hibbing 9 a.m.

Aug 21, Invitational at Delano 9 a.m.

Aug 25, Brainerd-Camp Lake Hubert Invitational 9 a.m.

Aug 26, Fergus Falls 4:30 p.m.

Aug 28, at Sartell 4:30 p.m.

Sept 2, Willmar 4:30 p.m.

Sept 4, at Alexandria 4:30 p.m.

Sept 6, Brainerd Invitational 9 a.m.

Sept 9, St. Cloud Tech 4:30 p.m.

Sept 11, at Rocori 4:30 p.m. (2 pts)

Sept 13, Brainerd Triangular 9 a.m.

Sept 16, at Apollo/Sauk Rapids 4:30 p.m. (2 pts)

Sept 18, at St. Cloud Tech 4:30 p.m.

Sept 23, Sartell 4:30 p.m.

Sept 25, at Willmar 4:30 p.m.

Sept 30, at Alexandria 4:30 p.m.

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Mike Bialka
(218) 855-5861
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