A different-looking state girls tennis tournament is on the horizon
Traditional powerhouse Grand Forks Red River is not in the field and the two favorites have never won the event.
The North Dakota girls state tennis tournament will be held in its normal spot of Choice Health and Fitness in Grand Forks this weekend, but the event will look a lot different than usual.
For just the second time in the history of the tournament -- and the first time since 1987 -- Grand Forks Red River will not be present. The Roughriders, winners in 15 of the last 18 state tournaments, narrowly missed state for the first time in 33 years by just one set, losing to Valley City in a state qualifier last weekend.
For the first time since 2002, Grand Forks Central will be present. The Knights ended their 19-year drought last weekend, winning a pair of down-to-the-wire matches to beat Fargo North 4-1 in a state qualifier.
"It's really cool for the girls to be able to go," said first-year coach Matt Fuka. "After the (clinching) match, all the girls went on the court and they were pretty pumped up. It's cool for the parents, who have been around for a while, to finally have that chance to celebrate getting there, too."
Adding to the oddities of this tournament, the favorites are teams that have never won a state championship. The East Region's best team is Fargo Davies (15-1). The West Region's best team is Mandan (16-0).
Central (9-4) qualified as the No. 3 seed from the East, but will have its hands full in the first round against an 18-2 Minot team that handed Fargo Davies its only loss during the regular season. Both of Minot's losses came against Mandan.
"That's going to be tough," Fuka said. "It's not like any team is unbeatable, but we do have to be playing our best to win."
The Knights ended their state-tournament drought with a young team.
In their state-qualifying win over Fargo North, only one upperclassman played -- senior Gabby Spicer. Their top player is freshman Madi Stauss and the bulk of their team comes from the sophomore class, including Gianna Blue, Sydnee Lemieux, Magdalene Spicer, Lauren Tran and Jennifer Wang. Seventh-grader Stella Blue also has cracked the varsity lineup.
"Everything is new and exciting for them," Fuka said.
The challenging part for a young team is the mental side of the game.
"Not getting nervous during a big point is tough," Fuka said, "even at our old age."
Singles, doubles contenders
The individual tournament, which begins Friday, may see a changing of the guard, too.
Grand Forks has had an individual champion in singles or doubles every year since 1997, when Bismarck High's Kelly Klundt won the singles title and Bismarck Century's Renae Wald and Angela Fitterer won doubles.
But this year, no Grand Forks individuals are favored.
In singles, only one Grand Forks player qualified. Central's Stauss is the East's No. 7 seed. The top seeds are Mandan's Elizabeth Felderman and West Fargo Sheyenne's Mimi Gu.
The best hope for a Grand Forks individual title will be in doubles, where Red River's Claire Huebner and Farrah Spicer are the No. 3 seed and Central's Gabby Spicer and Magdalene Spicer are the No. 4 seed from the East.
"They're in the mix," Red River coach Josh Lunak said of Huebner and Spicer. "A realistic goal for that team is to be all-state. They're super competitive. They communicate really well together. They have good chemistry with each other. They compete every point. They get after the net."
The Roughriders and Knights also qualified second doubles teams. For Red River, it's Sydnee Lemieux and Jennifer Wang, the East's No. 7 seed. For Central, it's Hannah Litzinger and Kate Hinchberger, the East's No. 8 seed.
"They played really well to upset a Wahpeton team in the state qualifier," Fuka said.
N.D. state girls tennis tournament
When: Thursday (team tournament), Friday (individual tournament, first round and quarterfinals) and Saturday (individual tournament, semifinals and championship).
Where: Choice Health and Fitness and Wynne Courts.
Team quarterfinals: GF Central (East No. 3) vs. Minot (West No. 2); Fargo Davies (East No. 1) vs. Bismarck Century (West No. 4); WF Sheyenne (East No. 2) vs. Bismarck Legacy (West No. 3); Mandan (West No. 1) vs. Valley City (East No. 4).
GF Central individual qualifiers: Madi Stauss (East No. 7 singles), Gabby Spicer-Magdalene Spicer (East No. 4 doubles), Sydnee Lemieux-Jennifer Wang (East No. 7 doubles).
GF Red River individual qualifiers: Claire Huebner-Farrah Spicer (East No. 3 doubles), Hannah Litzinger-Kate Hinchberger (East No. 8 doubles).