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Girls Tennis: Wingers open with question marks

Red Wing junior Solveig Christenson lines up a serve during practice on Aug. 15 at Twin Bluff Middle School. The Wingers’ girls tennis team opened the 2014 season on Tuesday. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

From new players and conference teams, to not knowing entirely where all the matches are going to be played at, there’s plenty of uncertainty for the Red Wing girls tennis team.

In the first week of practice, head coach Matt Kavanagh and the rest of the Wingers focused on what they could control: how their team plays.

“The practices this week went pretty well. It took a little while to determine who the top 16 were, then who the top 12 were and who the top 10 are now,” Kavanagh said. “I think Jeff (Finholm, assistant coach) and I have it sorted out now.”

Featuring a mix of singles and doubles experience helps Kavanagh in the team-building process for a squad that lost seniors including Emily Stegora and Nicole Schammel, who reached the Section 1AA semifinals as a doubles team.

The issue comes from trying to find the right spots for everyone. Aside from sophomore Emily Otteson securing the No. 1 singles spot, there is plenty of flexibility for Red Wing.

“We should find what works hopefully sooner rather than later,” Kavanagh said. “You can’t just be doing what is the strongest team with the girls, I find. You have to do what encourages the most team bonding and everyone remaining happy, which is a hard thing to balance.”

But, there are some ideas on how the lineup could break down.

“Solveig (Christenson) wants to bounce around between No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles. She was doing a bit of that last year as well,” Kavanagh said. “Most girls want to play both. There are some girls like Lauren Brooks and Madeline (Bodensteiner) who just want to play doubles, and Emily Otteson and Anika (Nybo) just want to play singles. Everyone else is happy to mix in.”

The Wingers’ depth at doubles will take a hit early on as senior McKenzie Muelken will miss time due to a torn labrum.

“She’s doing a couple drills with us and taking things very easy,” Kavanagh said of Muelken. “She’s not pushing herself beyond her limit. … She’ll probably come into the order at No. 1 or No. 2 doubles; probably No. 2 doubles for her first match in.”

The tennis team got thrown into the fire quickly with three matches in three days, starting on Tuesday in a Big Nine Conference triangular with Owatonna and Rochester John Marshall. Wednesday, the Wingers head to North St. Paul, then travel to Faribault Thursday for a Big Nine triangular with Rochester Mayo and the host Falcons.

“That’s the thing about the Big Nine: you have a lot more matches already scheduled for you,” Kavanagh said.

He continued, “I’m not as familiar with this new conference. We’ve played a few of these teams out of conference and at sections. I don’t know how they stack up as a team, but we’ll find that out quickly.”

Making matters difficult for Red Wing is the lack of home matches. Due to the ongoing construction of new tennis courts at Red Wing High School, along with the removal of the old courts to make way for the new River Bluff Education Center building, the Wingers only have four home matches scheduled. East Ridge comes to Red Wing on Aug. 25, while Austin (Sept. 9), Mankato East (Sept. 11) and Lakeville North (Sept. 13) all come to the Twin Bluff Middle School courts on the same week.

“It is what it is. The girls are not that happy about it and neither am I. It’s just a simple matter of arithmetic,” Kavanagh said. “We have to find a way around that and when push came to shove, this was the only option.”

There’s a lot to sort out, but Red Wing has aspirations of finishing in the top half of the new-look Big Nine.

“I think we can get in the top 50 percent of the 12 teams. We’ll see how that prediction looks in 10 weeks’ time,” Kavanagh said. “We should have a reasonably strong top six as well when it comes to individual playoffs.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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