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Balance, experience lead Bemidji tennis team

BEMIDJI — A consistent lineup probably will be a rarity for the Bemidji girls tennis team this fall. And that is just fine with head coach Mark Fodness.

“I think our overall depth will be one of our strengths,” Fodness said. “We have some very good tennis players and plenty of balance. I think we have at least six players who could make the lineup of many teams and we have six doubles teams that could do the same.

“I don’t believe that there are many spots in our lineup that are secure and that internal competition will make everyone better.”

No matter how the individuals improve this fall, it will be difficult to duplicate last year’s success. The Lumberjacks compiled a 14-1 dual meet record in 2012 and the lone loss came in the Section 8-2A final when they fell to St. Cloud Tech.

A return trip to the section final and another probable shot at Tech is among the immediate goals of this year’s squad.

“We want to get to the section final,” Fodness said. “We aren’t there yet and we have plenty of work to do before we can think about playing in the final but if we continue to make progress, I think we have the potential to do that. I think playing in the section final is a very good possibility for this team.”

The Lumberjacks return nine letterwinners and seven of them are seniors. Headed by captains Kenzie Schultz, Claudia Bellew and Annika Johnson, the senior letterwinners include McKayla Beaulieu, Olivia Dickinson, Nicolette Roy and Jenna Lee. Also expected to see playing time is senior Kayla Snell.

The juniors include returning letterwinners Alexis Konecne and Sarah McNallan plus Erin Edlund, Mattie Osborn, Amelia Althoen and Sarah Reed.

In the season-opening invitational at Pine City Fodness also inserted eighth grader Abbie Kelm into the lineup at third doubles.

“I think we will have people moving up and out of the lineup all season,” Fodness said. “There will be opportunities for playing time all year and generally, when you have that type of competition for spots, you have an edge over your opponents.

“In tennis, some years you have a set lineup at the top but that is not the case for us this year,” the coach continued. “I believe that the players enjoy the fact that their teammates are working with the goal of moving up in the lineup. The competition brings out the best in everybody and this year we will see that more than ever.”

Bellew handled the first singles chores at Pine City and has developed into one of the team leaders.

“Claudia is a very strong singles player,” Fodness said. “She played mostly No. 3 singles last year and has made the adjustment to No. 1 this fall. Claudia is very competitive, is even tempered and will become more confident with every match.”

Johnson and Dickinson return as the top doubles tandem and Fodness sees continued success for the duo.

“I think No. 1 doubles will be a team strength,” the coach said. “Annika and Olivia came back knowing where they fit in the lineup and I’m expecting them to have a very good year.”

Schultz and Lee opened the season as the No. 2 doubles team and both have been varsity players for a few years. But this fall is the first time they have been paired as a doubles team.

“I was very pleased with their performance and how their personalities meshed at Pine City,” Fodness said. “Kenzie and Jenna formed a good doubles combination. It looks like they have a good thing going.”

A return trip to the section final is the goal but it is a long time between now and the middle of October.

“We are off to a positive start but we have many very tough challenges ahead of us,” Fodness said. “This year’s schedule is very difficult and that is what we wanted. We want to play the best schedule that we can because you only improve if you are pushed.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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