Prep girls tennis season preview: Experienced Duluth East has lofty goals
Back when Annagrace Norr, Elise Hauer and Kendra Berry started their varsity tennis careers, Duluth still had three public high schools, President Barack Obama had been in office about seven months and Brett Favre was preparing to wear purple.
Now, as the tennis-playing trio embarks on a final season at Duluth East, Obama is midway through his second term and Favre is a 44-year-old assistant football coach at a Mississippi high school.
And Duluth, of course, is down to just two high schools.
“It feels like just yesterday” that we joined the tennis team, Berry said before the Greyhounds’ match against Duluth Marshall on Wednesday. “It’s so weird to think that it’s our last year.”
Norr, Hauer and Berry each made East’s varsity as seventh-graders in 2009. A year ago, they helped the Greyhounds erase an 18-year state tournament drought, and with nearly everybody back there’s little reason to doubt East’s ability to defend its Section 7AA crown.
The goals this year, according to the three players with a combined 15 years of varsity experience, extend beyond simply reaching state.
“We really have a goal to get to state, but more so than that moving on at state because we lost in the first round against Edina,” Norr said. “This year is about making it to state and going even further.”
There is no shame in losing to Edina, which has captured just about every state title in Minnesota girls tennis. The Hornets are 17-time defending Class AA champs.
“Just getting there is such a great experience and it really shows us what we can do,” Hauer said. “We weren’t totally sure about last year going into it, but we ended up beating Elk River (in the section finals) and that was a huge accomplishment for us.”
Elk River had claimed the previous six section titles.
Hauer is East’s No. 1 singles player and is followed by Berry at No. 2 and freshman Brynne Hauer, Elise’s sister, at No. 3. Norr and the younger Hauer, when she’s not playing singles, comprise the Greyhounds’ top doubles team.
Gates LeSavage, who won the lone match in a 6-1 defeat to Edina, also returns.
All of it bodes well for coach Lee Kruger, whose displaced team is off to a 6-0 start. The Greyhounds typically call the Longview Tennis Club home, but that venue is being resurfaced, forcing East to utilize the all-but-forgotten courts at shuttered Duluth Central.
It’s but a speed bump on what Kruger hopes is the Greyhounds’ path back to the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
“We finally broke the ice last year, and to be honest I thought we should have went a couple years previously, but we just couldn’t win that one last match or get that one last point,” he said. “Our expectation is to go back again. I have my October cleared.”
Kruger said having three players with so much experience makes his life easier.
“They’re like coaches on the court,” Kruger said. “They finish my sentences, they do all the things that we expect out of captains and they know my style and what I believe in.”
“We know going into each match what we need to do and what Kruger’s going to probably tell us on our changeover,” she said with a smirk. “You expect it and you just kind of shake your head and know it’s coming.”
Norr, Hauer and Berry say they are best friends off the court. On it, each knows what the other is thinking and feeling. And they relish that familiarity as they take aim at another section title.
“It’s fun to go through all this with them,” Norr said.
Elsewhere Virginia’s reign atop Section 7A finally came to an end in 2013, when Foley narrowly dethroned the six-time champs in the semifinals.
Among the notable returners for longtime coach Dave Gunderson is Brylee Seitz, who paired with the coach’s daughter, recent graduate Taylor Gunderson, to win the Class A consolation doubles championship last year. That duo finished third at the state tournament in 2012.
Seitz also has played No. 1 singles for a team that is off to a 2-3 start.
Four other regulars, including seniors Greta Kolstad and Jen Virant, are back for the Blue Devils, while five underclassmen will be relied upon to fill in the gaps.
-- Eveleth-Gilbert’s depth and veteran guile led the Golden Bears to the Section 7A finals last fall, where they ran out of gas in a 5-2 defeat to Foley. Coach Dean Edstrom must replace five seniors from that team.
Fortunately for the coach, his No. 1 singles player of the past three years, Katelyn Rice, is back for one more go-round. Rice will be followed by potential-packed sophomore Cora Delich at No. 2 singles. Seniors Amy Licari and Kortney Rosati comprise the top doubles tandem.
As it was last year, Section 7A figures to be wide-open, according to Edstrom.
--Hibbing-Chisholm is coming off a one-win showing and the Bluejackets once again are dominated by youth — five seventh-graders and just two seniors are listed on the roster. Second-year coach Joe Rocco says numbers are down, but he’s liked his team’s resiliency against a brutal early season schedule.
Maria Valentini was supposed to be an eighth-grader on Rocco’s team, but the intelligent youngster skipped a grade and instead is a freshman.
Hibbing is led by seniors Raini Heyblom and Cassie Butler, and sophomores Jordan Hyduke and Kayley Marschalk.
-- Eight of 10 starters return for Superior, including sophomores Hannah and Allie Thul, who will fill out the top two singles spots.
-- Experienced Hermantown, which almost exclusively features juniors and seniors, is 2-2 to start the season.
-- Kayelyn McDonald takes over a rebuilding program at Duluth Denfeld, which has more players out than the eight that showed up last fall.
-- Despite the return of eight starters, Grand Rapids-Greenway, which was one of the final four teams standing in Section 7AA in 2013, is still loaded with underclassmen. Senior captains Taylor Kane and Taylor Wochnick lead the way.