Prep girls tennis preview: Duluth East inspired by the past

A Duluth East letter jacket, from the glory days of girls tennis, has been used as an incentive for the Greyhounds. Assistant coach Meghan Donley Kimber has brought the jacket to practice and tells stories of the 1990s when she, and her two siste...

A Duluth East letter jacket, from the glory days of girls tennis, has been used as an incentive for the Greyhounds.

Assistant coach Meghan Donley Kimber has brought the jacket to practice and tells stories of the 1990s when she, and her two sisters, helped the program to towering heights in Northeastern Minnesota.

The current group of players has been listening. East is favored in Section 7AA in 2012, bidding for its first team state-tournament berth since 1995. Elk River is five-time defending Section 7AA champion.

"Since the start of captains practice we've said that getting to the state tournament is our goal. We've made that clear," said senior Ann Heyer, a co-captain. "For the seniors on the team, we believe we've always had the talent and we just haven't reached our goals."

Last year, East was painfully close. In the Section 7AA semifinals, in Duluth, the Greyhounds led Elk River 3-1 and had the lead in two of the remaining matches, yet ultimately lost 4-3. Two East doubles losses were in three sets. Elk River eventually finished third in the Class AA state tournament.


Head coach Lee Kruger has 37 team candidates this fall, the most in his tenure, which includes a brief stint in the 1990s and again since 2003. He has four seniors leading the way, along with star sophomore Elise Hauer. The Greyhounds were 2-0 in their opening day of play last Saturday against Hastings and White Bear Lake.

"Our (team) numbers have been growing, along with our student population, and gradually we're coming along, we're getting better," said Kruger.

East won 11 straight Section 7AA team titles from 1985 through 1995 with a match record of 185-16. The Greyhounds placed second in Class AA five times and third twice in that stretch. Sisters Heather and Lisa Kottke were part of the streak along with twins Meghan and Anne Donley, and younger sister, Kristin, among others. Kristin is also an East assistant this season in addition to former Greyhound Anissa Zuber Karakas.

"We were so close last year. We won our last match to beat Hibbing in the quarterfinals and then were in a good position against Elk River. We were so, so close and that is our motivation," said senior Caroline Skinner.

Skinner returns at No. 1 singles, although Kruger notes any of three players could be at the top of the lineup.

"There is more depth than we've had before and there is positive peer motivation throughout the team," said Grace Heyer, Ann's twin. "Our coaches keep telling us 'Practice how you want to play,' and that's how we approach every practice."

Virginia has won five straight Section 7A team titles and claimed a second straight Minnesota Class A consolation championship in 2011, finishing 20-4.

Large schools


Hibbing-Chisholm is expected to challenge East for Northland supremacy. Coach Gary Conda has a solid singles lineup with seniors Christina Matetich, Mikaela Krampotich, Emily Milani and Nicole Blagoue.

Senior Taylor Armstrong and sophomore Kendra Berry are also among East's leaders.

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Steve Rickstrom has 31 players, his largest turnout, led by senior captain Reilly Kedrowski, senior Alyssa Acheson and junior Breanne Baker.

Dan Bell, a Lake Superior College student, takes over as Duluth Denfeld coach with Paul Sandholm on a sabbatical. Senior Paige Schueller and junior Olivia Kinziger lead the way. Bell was a Denfeld assistant last season.

Former Duluth Marshall player John Johnson, Superior's new head coach, has a lineup dominated by seniors including Cassie Hanson, Keely McCall, Carissa Welch and Brianna Homich. The Spartans have four newly resurfaced courts, completing a project that began last year with new nets and posts. Johnson opened the Superior Tennis Academy in June and is working with Superior parks and recreation in hopes of restoring courts in the area.

After serving as an assistant for the Hermantown girls and boys programs, Kelly Cooke is in his first year as girls head coach. Sophomore Madelyn Miller heads the singles lineup, while the top doubles team is junior Anna VanDeelan with sophomore Mariah Ruhanen. The team's only senior is Isabell Dougherty.

Grand Rapids-Greenway will be led by the Kane sisters, senior captain Kenzie and sophomore Taylor. Coach Lew Smiley also has experience in senior captains Megan Ritter and Morgan Bellefy.

Returning are Section 7AA singles champion Faith Lee of Andover and runner-up Michaela Schulz of Elk River, both seniors. Elk River defeated Forest Lake 4-3 in the 2011 Section 7AA team final.


Small schools

After an impressive five-year streak, Virginia coach Dave Gunderson is looking at a rare rebuilding season with eight seniors lost to graduation. Returning are Section 7A singles runner-up Brylee Seitz, a sophomore, and junior Taylor Gunderson, who reached the 2011 Class A doubles consolation final (with Samantha Silcox). Also back are juniors Amy Rice and Jess Berglund.

Eveleth-Gilbert coach Kristin Johnson returns 17 of 19 players and started with a 4-0 record the first weekend of the season, including a win over Grand Rapids-Greenway. Leading the Golden Bears in singles are sophomore Katelyn Rice along with juniors Lexi Brascugli and Aimee Allen.

Taking over as Duluth Marshall first-year co-coaches are Megan Seipel and Alyson Brandell. The Hilltoppers have a young team with just one senior, Maddie Auvinen, and seven juniors, including Hannah Auvinen.

Defending Section 7A singles champion Abby Kantor of Foley is a junior. Virginia defeated Foley 4-3 in the 2011 Section 7A team final in Virginia.

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