At the end of the 2016 East Region singles championship, Grand Forks Red River coach Greg LaDouceur offered a prediction about eighth-graders Shaelyn Johnson and Monti Knewtson.

"I think there are going to be some pretty good battles coming up," he said.

Not surprisingly, that's been the case.

Johnson, of Grand Forks Red River, and Knewtson, of West Fargo Sheyenne, have been trading state singles championships ever since then.

Johnson won it in 2016, when they were both eighth-graders.

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Knewtson won it in 2017, when they were both freshmen.

Last year, Johnson won the singles championship as Knewtson opted to play doubles. Knewtson won the doubles title with teammate Mimi Gu.

This year, Knewtson is back in singles, which means the longtime friendly rivals and junior standouts could be on course for another state championship showdown.

"Monti and I always end up playing each other -- at least we hope to," Johnson said. "We're friends off the court. It's fun to meet her and have the challenge. Even after all of the times I've played her, you never know what's going to happen."

The North Dakota state tournament will be held this weekend at Choice Health and Fitness beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday. The entire team tournament will be held Thursday, where 2018 team finalists Sheyenne and Minot are the top seeds from the East and West.

Grand Forks Red River, winners of 15 of the last 17 state team tournaments, is an uncharacteristic underdog. After finishing sixth in the East Region in the regular season, the Roughriders rallied to reach state and will take the No. 4 seed into a quarterfinal matchup against defending state champion Minot.

"We had to fight really hard to make it," Johnson said. "No one expected us to make it. Knowing we were able to prove people wrong, we're really ready to show what we can do at the tournament.

"We don't have the target this year."

The individual tournament begins Friday and ends Saturday afternoon.

That's where Johnson and Knewtson will try to make their way through the field to meet in the state singles championship again.

Last week in Fargo, they had no problem getting to the East Region singles final. Knewtson and Johnson won their first three matches by a combined game score of 72-3. Neither had a match closer than 6-1, 6-0.

In the championship, Knewtson beat Johnson 6-2, 7-5, rallying from down 4-1 in the second set. That means Johnson will be on the same half of the draw as the West's top contender, Raquel Egge of Minot. The state singles champion has only come from the West once in the last 20 years.

In doubles, the favorite is Sheyenne's team of Preeti Chemiti and Gu, the No. 1 seed from the East. Gu has already won a doubles title. Grand Forks Central has the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds from the East Region in Gabby Spicer-Katie Stauss and Sophie Welsh-Emily Morken.

Elizabeth Felderman and Kenna Vogel of Mandan have won back-to-back West Region doubles titles and will be the West's top contender. The West has only won one doubles title in the last 12 years.

N.D. state girls tennis team tournament

At Choice Health and Fitness, Thursday

Quarterfinals -- Minot (No. 1 West) vs. GF Red River (No. 4 East), 10 a.m.; Fargo Davies (No. 2 East) vs. Mandan (No. 3 West), 10 a.m.; WF Sheyenne (No. 1 East) vs. Dickinson (No. 4 West), 10 a.m.; Bismarck Legacy (No. 2 West) vs. Fargo North (No. 3 East).

Semifinals -- 1 p.m.

Championship -- 6 p.m.