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Red River gets past Central with four three-set victories

The Roughriders knocked off the defending state champions and are in position to be the East's top seed for the playoffs.

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Grand Forks Red River's Saylor Kuenzel reaches for a shot during the Riders' doubles match with Grand Forks Central, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022 at University Park.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Red River stayed unbeaten Tuesday afternoon and continued to roll toward the East Region's No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

The two-time defending state champions didn't make it easy on them.

The Roughriders beat rival Grand Forks Central 8-1 on Tuesday at University Park in a dual that was far closer than the final score indicated.

Red River won four three-set matches to get the victory. Had they all flipped the other way, the Knights would have grabbed an upset.

"Central was the best team we've played all year," Red River coach Josh Lunak said. "They pushed us today. They really pushed us. I'm happy with how our guys responded and how they were able to win four of the five three-setters."

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Red River won three-set matches at No. 1 singles, No. 2 singles, No. 5 singles and No. 3 doubles. Central won a three-set match at No. 1 doubles.

The top matches were particularly competitive.

Red River's Espen Schneider outlasted Central's Evan Panzer 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at No. 1 singles, while Kellen Johnson staved off Cole Wilber 6-2, 6-7 (9), 10-4 at No. 2. Wilber saved six match points in the second set.

"Those were high-quality matches — 50-50 matches that could have gone either way," Lunak said. "We were fortunate to get both of them today."

At No. 1 doubles, Panzer and Wilber teamed to beat Schneider and Saylor Kuenzel 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.

"If anybody enjoys North Dakota high school tennis, they would have loved to watch No. 1 and No. 2 singles," Central coach Max Weisser said. "That was Class-A, top-notch tennis at the high school level.

"No. 1 doubles was as top-notch of a high school doubles match I've seen in a while. Every point was so sought-after. Guys were digging balls out of their feet. They were having 16-shot rallies almost every point. It was top-notch."

Red River, which also received three-set wins from Asher Green at No. 5 singles and Carson Skarperud-Julian Mallory at No. 3 doubles, improved to 9-0 this season. The Roughriders have one regular-season dual scheduled at Fargo South on Thursday.

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Then, they'll get to the postseason, where the Roughriders are trying to bring home their first state title since 2016. Prior to that, they had won 18 team titles in 19 years.

Central, which dropped to 6-3, will close the regular season Thursday at Valley City.

"I definitely thought Red River is very tough and very deep," Weisser said. "I was very impressed with how we matched their intensity at a couple of spots. The one thing I said to the two coaches when I left was that I couldn't be more impressed by the effort we had today. We showed up to play a tough matches against the best team in the state, and I thought we gave them all we had."

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Grand Forks Central's Cole Wilber hits a shot as Evan Panzer looks on in their doubles match with Red River's Saylor Kuenzel and Espen Schneider Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, at University Park.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Red River 8, Central 1
Singles
1. Espen Schneider, RR, over Evan Panzer 4-6, 6-3, 6-4; 2. Kellen Johnson, RR, over Cole Wilber 6-2, 6-7 (9), 10-4; 3. Saylor Kuenzel, RR, over Jason Ling 6-0, 6-0; 4. Luc Bydal, RR, over Rylan Spicer 6-3, 6-4; 5. Asher Green, RR, over A.J. Spicer 4-6, 6-4, 6-0; 6. Carson Skarperud, RR, over Logan Nielsen 6-0, 6-4
Doubles
1. Panzer-Wilber, GFC, over Schneider-Kuenzel 4-6, 6-4, 6-0; 2. Johnson-Bydal, RR, over Spicer-Spicer 6-1, 6-0; 3. Skarperud-Julian Mallory, RR, over Ling-Hanson Du 2-6, 6-1, 6-4

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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