Girls Tennis: New section, new schedule, same talented Warrior roster
The Brainerd Warriors girls tennis team will battle in a new section this year, but the talent is there to compete.
That was all the Brainerd Warriors suffered in a COVID-19 abbreviated 2020 fall season. Unfortunately that one loss came in the Section 8-2A Final as the top-seeded Warriors were upset 4-3 by the No. 2 seeded Bemidji Lumberjacks.
With six of the 10 girls from last year’s squad back, including two players that didn’t suffer a loss, the Warriors are poised to once again enjoy a successful regular season and a deep playoff push. That playoff push will happen in a different section as the Warriors moved from Section 8-2 to Section 7-2.
“I told the team this is an adventure,” Warrior head coach Lisa Salo said. “We’ll have an opportunity to see some new teams, although it was a struggle to get Section 7-2A teams on our schedule because the change didn’t happen until early April when the Minnesota State High School League made that change. Every two years they realign and we happened to be a team that moved to a different section.
“It was an adventure to look at our schedule and see what we could add. We have five of them. I’m very happy about that. There are 17 or 18 teams in our section.”
The section move caused a drastic change in the Warriors’ schedule this season. Brainerd will only play each conference school once except for the St. Cloud Crush, a new cooperative between Tech, Apollo and Cathedral.
Each conference match with the exception of the Crush will count as two points toward the conference standings.
“There’s an interesting twist to our conference because Sauk Rapids used to be partnered with Sartell. This year, Sauk Rapids apparently has a stand-alone team so that’s an additional match that we have for our conference match,” Salo said. “We could have done a home-and-away with every one of them, but that would be 14 matches on our schedule. We are allowed to have 16 event dates and we wanted to be able to play other teams, especially now that we’re in a new section.
“Plus, I always look to beef up our schedule and get variety in competition for our team. Tech is one that stayed as a home-and-away and the other ones did not.”
Brainerd’s regular-season schedule is filled with new opponents like Hibbing, Elk River, Foley, Grand Rapids, Andover, Hutchinson, Woodbury, Minnewaska, Princeton, St. Michael-Albertville, Roseau, Big Lake, Coon Rapids, East Grand Forks, Glencoe-Silver Lake, New Prague, Pequot Lakes, Duluth East, Minneapolis Washburn and Osakis.
Brainerd might add a match against Bemidji because of a previous contract. That match is currently not on the schedule.
Despite the schedule change, Salo is still confident she has the players to compete and one reason is Brainerd will have six returning players that counted toward team points last season.
“What is really exciting is that they all bring a lot of match play and tournament experience, which they will rely on, and they can help lead our team with that experience,” Salo said. “We’re very lucky for that. They grew a lot last year in their games and they worked all summer on their game.
“It will be interesting to see where our lineup shakes out as to who is going to play what. Right now we’re in that discovery stage of our season.”
Catherine Moraghan and Taylor Ruhl are two seniors that each finished 2020 with 10-0 records.
Moraghan played No. 2 singles last season and owns a career record of 33-2. That record includes both singles and doubles action. She earned All-Central Lakes Conference honors last season.
“She’s a strong leader and a very strong player,” Salo said. “Her groundstroke game is her game, especially her forehand. It’s certainly a weapon and she works the point to take advantage of her weapon. She’s really improved her entire game. She’s improved her backhand tremendously. Her serve is improving, but that’s something she would say needs to continue to improve.”
Last year was Ruhl’s first varsity season and she was honored with an all-conference honorable mention selection. She played No. 3 singles last season.
“Another strong leader,” Salo said. “She has a much-improved game and worked a lot on it this offseason. Last year, she was more of a steady baseline player that would outlast her opponent. We always told her to hit bigger and sting the ball a little more and put some variety in her game. That was starting to come and she has it now. She is hitting bigger. She’s an all-court player and has worked on her mid-court game and her volley game. Her serve has really become a weapon.”
Brynne Folden was also an all-conference honorable mention selection after finishing the year 9-1 at No. 2 doubles with the graduated Ally Goeden. Folden is the top returning doubles player.
“She’s a senior leader and doubles specialist,” Salo said. “She’s super competitive and aggressive at the net. She loves to hit overheads, particularly overheads that will hit the other side of the court and go over the fence. That’s the goal. She’s aggressive.”
Lindsy Busch finished 8-1 last season to push her career record to 18-1. The senior played four singles last year and will likely stay on the singles side.
“She has so much power to her game,” Salo said. “Lindsy loves to strike the ball with pace. You characterize her as a power player. Watching her compete so far she is really becoming strategic to draw people in and use some slice. She’s moving people around. She loves to compete.
“Her serve has improved a lot so it’s much more consistent. She has a lot of singles experience and I think that’s what she prefers.”
Lila Collins enjoyed an 8-1 rookie varsity season last year. The sophomore played doubles last season.
“Lila can play singles,” Salo said. “She’s an all-court player and she’s very tenacious at the net. Players just don’t know where she’s going to be because she’s very quick. She’s aggressive and covers the court well and that’s why she is so effective in either doubles or singles.”
This will be Ella Chaussee’s third varsity season. She finished last year 6-1 to improve her career record to 24-8.
“She had an extraordinary season as a singles player her freshman year and last year her position on the team we felt would be better in doubles,” Salo said. “We felt she had the skill set to do that and she did. She gained so much in her doubles play, particularly in netplay and that will benefit her wherever she plays this year.”
With six spots essentially locked in, that leaves just four open positions and Salo said she’s got about 11 girls vying for those positions. In her head, Salo said she’s got about five or six different lineups.
Two young players have stepped up early in practice and they are freshman Ericah Folden and sophomore Lacy Busch. Salo believes those two will secure varsity slots.
“They have skill sets that they have demonstrated to us that will support our team in some capacity,” Salo said. “They are both returning varsity players because we can carry 15 on our varsity squad, but the other six returners had the point-play experience. These two will be impact players right away.”
Salo is excited about her team’s depth. She’s excited about the new schedule and new opponents and she’s just happy to be in a position to try and figure out a lineup that can compete in the new section.
“We have a lot of potential, energy and excitement,” she said. “It’s kind of that adventure. Our goal is to come in and be an impact team in our new section. We will see.”
Head coach: Lisa Salo, 17th season (1985-92, 2013-21)
2020 finish: 8-0 in CLC, 9-1 overall
Assistant coaches: Chad Anderson, Addie Sanford, Bruce Thompson (volunteer)
Manager: Isabelle Smith
Returning section players: Catherine Moraghan, Taylor Ruhl, Ella Chaussee, Lindsy Busch, Brynne Folden, Lila Collins
Seniors: Avery Anakkala, Lindsy Busch, Brynne Folden, Catherine Moraghan, Olivia Orlowski, Taylor Ruhl
Juniors: Paige Beyer, Rilee Borders, Ellie Brown, Ella Chaussee, Taylor Harrington, Hannah Hayes
Sophomores: Lacy Busch, Sophia Karsnia, Lila Collins, Bailey Czech, Olivia Dehning, Claire Erdal, Lauren Kline, Lydia Olson, Lydia Omberg, Jasmine Patnoe
Freshmen: Kaya Anderson, Lauren Castle, Nola Doty, Corryn Eberhart, Ericah Folden, Reese Glynn, Lily Knoepke, Stella Lundberg, Brooke Mulholland, Abi Neelan, Sophie Schamber, Eva Sernov
Tuesday, Aug. 24: hosts Foley, Grand Rapids 9 a.m.
Thursday, Aug. 26: at Delano Invite 9 a.m.
Saturday, Aug. 28: hosts quadrangular 9 a.m.
Aug. 30: hosts Lake Hubert Invite 9 a.m.
Sept. 2: at St. Cloud Crush Triangular 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 7: hosts Sauk Rapids 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 9: at Fergus Falls 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 11: host Moose Tournament at Brainerd 9 a.m.
Sept. 14: at Sartell 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 16: at Willmar 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 121: at Alexandria 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 23: hosts St. Cloud Crush 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 25: hosts quadrangular 9 a.m.
Sept. 28: hosts Rocori 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 30: hosts Osakis 4:30 p.m.