Athletics: Warriors off to phenomenal fall start

The Brainerd Warriors fall sports teams are off to a fantastic start to the season, including the 4-0 Warrior girls tennis team. Head coach Lisa Salo talks about some of her coaching philosophy in this week's Q&A.

Brainerd Warrior girls Tennis coach Lisa Salo talks to her athletes Wednesday, Sept. 2, at the Brainerd High School courts. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

With the Run for the Melon cross-country invite Friday, Sept. 4, all the Brainerd Warrior fall activities began the season.

Both cross-country teams registered runner-up finishes.

Both soccer teams are 3-0 and neither has allowed a goal.

The Warriors swimming and diving team is 1-0, but their biggest hiccup has been the use of their home pool. The team's dual scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 3, was pushed to October because the pool wasn’t ready. That’s also hampered the practice of Brainerd’s divers, which is a strength of this year’s team.

Brainerd’s girls tennis team is off to an undefeated start, including a 6-1 victory over Central Lakes Conference rival St. Cloud Tech. Brainerd’s other three victories were both 7-0 blowouts.


Expectations are high for the girls tennis team as the program continues to be one of the tops in the CLC and Section 8-2A. Head coach Lisa Salo was able to take some time away from building that successful program to talk about the intricacies of a tennis team.

Q: What are the characteristics you look for in a good singles player?

LS: I look for a player who has a consistent baseline game (forehand and backhand groundstrokes), is able to hit with depth and has a consistent, reliable topspin "rally ball" as we call it. Being patient is often used to describe a singles player and I look for that as well, however, my staff and I coach an offensive aggressive style of play, so we want our singles players to build a point to look for offensive opportunities. That means hitting with varied paces, working the outer thirds of the court, taking short balls and moving to the net, or using angles to move their opponent off of the court.

Q: What are the characteristics you look for in a good doubles player?


LS: People often think a doubles player doesn't have to move as much because they are sharing the court with a partner, but that is not true. There is a tremendous amount of movement in doubles. I look for a player who changes directions quickly, has a consistent, well-placed serve, and a strong net game (volleys and overheads). This player needs to be comfortable at the net. We coach an aggressive style of doubles play and look for our players to cross and close toward the net to pick off balls. We need a player who is willing to take risks and look to gravitate to and attack the ball rather than react to the ball.

Q: When pairing doubles players what are the keys to making a good duo?

LS: From a technique standpoint, a combination of a steady player and a more aggressive player is a nice balance as that duo can use those strengths to build points and set each other up. Most importantly, however, is the ability for the two players to communicate and trust each other. Finding that chemistry between two people is so important. Sometimes you can pair up two individuals and they just click, but I also believe you can help two players build the chemistry between them. When they do, they understand what each other needs to stay focused and positive throughout the match.

Q: During breaks in action of a match sometimes coaches go and visit with their athletes. What are you guys talking about? How much is it coaching strategy and how much is it being a cheerleader?


LS: I have had so many different conversations on the changeovers with our athletes. Often, the conversation starts with a question, asking that athlete how they assess their style of play and the style of play of their opponent. What is working, what is not. I want to hear how they are processing their match. I would say more of the information we as a staff share is strategic rather than too technical as we want them to rely on feeling their shots and their muscle memory rather than thinking about them too much.

My staff and I work hard to help our athletes understand they have to manage their match and they can trust themselves to make adjustments to their game. We don't want to overcoach. Often, less said is more valuable. We want them to trust themselves and their decision making. There certainly are the "pump up" conversations as well as the conversations which help an athlete relax and remind them to focus on what they can control.

Each athlete is different in how they respond to feedback. Some need direct information, others do better when they can process it themselves with some guidance. Knowing that helps my staff and I be specific in how we use those 90 seconds during the changeover. There are times when I have used a joke, even though I am not a good joke teller, or a conversation about something totally unrelated to tennis to help that athlete relax, smile and reset.

Q: I often hear about net play and it always seems like a struggle to get young players to attack the net? What’s the hesitation and how beneficial is a good net game?

LS: Net play is so important in both singles and doubles. I like to coach our players to build an "all-court game" meaning being able to do the little things right with baseline and net play skills. For so many tennis players, they step out onto the court and start hitting groundstrokes and are more comfortable with having a little more time to adjust to the oncoming ball and the lateral movement. We will tell our athletes they need to get comfortable moving "north and south" meaning to and from the net as well. There is a time factor in that because as you approach the net, you have less time to react to the ball which can be uncomfortable for many players.

This season a lot of our drills have been working on transitioning to the net and getting more comfortable with the mid-court game so they can get to the net. I want our players to understand their options increase when they are at the net. They take away their opponents time, put pressure on their opponent and they have the opportunity to use more angles and move their opponents all over the court.


Q: What’s the most important fundamentals young players need to learn and what are a few attributes or skills that make a great tennis player great?

LS: My immediate response to these two questions does not relate to any specific stroke or tennis strategy at all. I feel that a young player needs to hear and understand that it is okay to make build a growth mindset. All players need to understand that making mistakes is a part of the game and being willing to take risks to work on skills will raise your level of play. That is most important. The belief that you are in control of your progress and can learn and improve will transfer far beyond the tennis courts into all aspects of your life. No one's game is ever going to be perfect and the beauty of competition is learning how to handle setbacks as well as success. That also involves pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone which is not easy to do, but necessary to build confidence, having a willingness to take a risk of using a skill that has been worked on in practice in a match and understanding that it might take time to see the results.

We focus on drilling and competing with a lot of grit, giving full effort and realizing a loss is not failure, it is feedback....a chance to grow your game. No matter your age, once you adopt a growth mindset, you will make progress because it is all in your control and you ultimately will reach your potential and enjoy the process along the way.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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