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Youth is no hindrance to Roughriders

Growing pains never seem to be a problem for the Grand Forks Red River boys tennis program. Among the regulars in the Roughriders' lineup last season were two seventh-graders, three freshmen and only three seniors. Yet the beat went on for Red Ri...

Growing pains never seem to be a problem for the Grand Forks Red River boys tennis program.

Among the regulars in the Roughriders' lineup last season were two seventh-graders, three freshmen and only three seniors.

Yet the beat went on for Red River -- the Roughriders won the North Dakota dual state title, their 11th straight state championship. In the process, they extended their winning streak to 120 duals. Their last dual defeat was in 2000.

"That was a younger-than-normal team for us,'' Red River coach Greg LaDouceur said. "But it doesn't matter how old you are. Age isn't as much of a factor in this sport as in some of the others. In tennis, it's about knowing the game and the mental toughness the kids have.''

In tennis, experience can offset physical disadvantages that younger players may have going against older players, LaDouceur said. And while the Riders have only two seniors with varsity experience, there are plenty of veterans in the lineup.

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Several of the players participate in tennis year round. Some have had national success -- sophomore Erik Johnson, eighth-grader Joey Anderson and newcomer Greg Wischer played on the 2008 Grand Forks Lord of the Strings team that won a national championship.

"Our coaches teach us how to handle the competition,'' said Johnson, a sophomore who is entering his third season as a varsity regular. As an eighth-grader, Johnson said the transition to varsity tennis "was pretty easy. We all play a lot of tournaments outside of high school. So when we got to high school, it wasn't too big of a step up.''

Johnson is coming off a season in which he went 20-5 playing No. 1 singles for the Riders, placing third at state. Another sophomore, Joe Lee, went 23-3 and finished fifth at state in singles.

Anderson (13-0) and Andre Caoili (8-0) were undefeated as seventh-graders last season. So was Ryan Hoverson, who was 10-0 as a freshman last year.

"Playing older guys can be intimidating,'' Johnson said. "You just have to learn to relax and play your game. You can't worry about how old or how much bigger the other guys you're playing are.''

Those young players, along with seniors Jake LaDouceur (25-0, repeat state doubles champion) and Phil Yunker (21-4, third at state doubles) will form the nucleus of this season's team.

They'll be following up on a 2008 season in which the Riders lost just one match in dual competition, that coming in a 4-1 victory against a veteran Fargo South team in the state championship.

"You never expect to be dominant like that,'' Greg LaDouceur said. "But did I expect us to compete and have the upper hand in a lot of matches last year? Yeah. These kids have been in those situations. They know what it takes to win.

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"These kids do well in summer tournaments. They gain confidence. And that carries over into the high school season.''

DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to gdevillers@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: BOYS TENNISPREP SPORTS
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