One of the most successful outstate tennis programs will have its hands full Tuesday.
The Staples-Motley Cardinals open their eighth-straight Class 1A team tennis tournaments Tuesday against the defending state champion and top-ranked Blake 10 a.m. Tuesday.
But the Cardinals have something to prove this season. Last season wasn’t as successful as years past. S-M opened with a 5-2 loss to St. James in last year’s quarterfinals and were eliminated by Waseca 5-2 in the consolation semifinals.
“I don’t know a whole lot about (Blake,” said S-M’s first-year head coach Kayla Huether. “They’re going to be a tough team to beat, but I think our girls will come out strong. In the section tournament we showed that they can handle pressure. Coming into the state tournament they’ll show the same things. They’ll be ready to play and they won’t be intimidated. They know they are a good team.”
S-M was state runners-up in 2010 to Rochester Lourdes, which is also back in the state tournament. The Cardinals were consolation champions in 2009, fourth in 2008, third in 2007 and consolation champs again in 2006.
A flock of state veterans fill S-M’s roster. No. 1 singles player Mikayla Wing is back as is Sarah Koopmann, who played No. 2 singles in last year’s tournament and will likely play No. 4 singles this season.
The No. 1 doubles team of Maggie O’Keefe-Kelsey Zetah is back. Brooke Wolhowe and Emily Israelson played No. 2 doubles last season, but Israelson is playing singles this season and Wolhowe is paired with Annie Kautto. Also back are Nikki Edin and Grace Wolhowe, who played No. 3 doubles last season. Grace Wolhowe is playing No. 2 singles with Edin is now paired with Linsey Johnson.
The three alternates are Christina Smith, Kaighley Hosier and Laruen Nelson.
“I think this team is ready to go,” Huether said. “They’ll be confident. They’ve been working hard. We have had to practice indoors because of the weather and that’s been hard, but they’ll be ready.”
Of the eight schools in this year’s bracket, all but Providence Academy, who placed third, are back. No. 13th-ranked Annandale replaces Providence Academy in this year’s bracket.
Waseca was ranked third in the final Minnesota Coaches Association poll in front of No. 4 St. James, No. 5 S-M, No. 6 Osakis, No. 12 Rochester Lourdes and unranked Virginia.
Depending on who S-M does in its quarterfinal match they will play either Waseca or Osakis. S-M lost to Osakis 4-3 on Sept. 4.
In that loss to Osakis, Mikayla Wing defeated junior Taylor Kraemer 6-1, 6-2. Those two will square off in the opening round of the Class 1A singles tournament.
This will be Wing’s first individual tournament.
“Even from the beginning of the year she has improved,” said Huether. “She’s a really strong player. She’s very good. Mikayla has great ground strokes and that’s the best part of her game. I hope she plays aggressive and follows her great ground strokes into the net. Her goal is to set up a lot of the points and get some wins out of this.”
Wing enters the state tournament 26-4. She was the section 8-1A runner-up to Jessamy Jones of East Grand Forks.
“I think Mikayla comes out strong right away she’ll do well,” Huether said. “Her game is always so level. It seems like she’s always playing the same game the whole way through. She is pretty consistent.”