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TENNIS: Bemidji's Solberg excited about first state tournament experience

BEMIDJI – When alumni return for their high school reunions the conversation always drifts to memories of the school days and many of the stories revolve around senior year.

When Jess Solberg returns for her gatherings she will be able to talk about a unique senior experience – her trip to the state tennis tournament at the University of Minnesota indoor courts.

“I’m very excited,” Solberg said. “At the beginning of the season I thought I had a chance to get to state. I took the season match by match and tried to improve each time.

“I didn’t want to get ahead of myself but I really did think I could go to state,” Solberg added.

Her head coach, Mark Fodness, also believed that Solberg had a legitimate chance of ending her high school tennis career at the state tournament.

“This is something that Jess has worked so hard to achieve,” Fodness said. “And playing at state is a reward for all that hard work and dedication.

“Tennis is her thing,” Fodness continued. “Jess not only works hard during the season but she is extremely dedicated to the sport in the off-season, whether it’s our summer program or playing indoors. Jess puts her heart and soul into her tennis and now she is being rewarded.”

Solberg drew the top seed, Summer Brills of Mounds View, in today’s 8 a.m. opener. Last year Brills, who finished the fall rated No. 2 in the state, teamed with Tacy Haws-Lay to claim second place in the state doubles tournament.

“I think opening against the top seed is a good thing,” Solberg said. “I feel that I might as well play against No. 1 right away and get it over with. If I beat her it will be a bonus.”

Fodness also believes that opening against the top seed is a positive.

“Playing against Brills in the first round is an exciting opportunity for Jess,” the coach said. “Jess probably would be an underdog in most of the state matches but if she is able to bump Brills off she takes that spot in the bracket.

“The dream of any athlete is to play against No. 1 and we’ll see how Jess matches up,” Fodness continued. “Whether Jess wins or loses, it will be wonderful experience. And she will still have another match to play regardless of how she does against Brills, either in the championship or the consolation round.”

Despite the state tournament spotlight Solberg is viewing today’s battle like a regular season match.

“I think I’ll probably be nervous at the start but when the first serve is hit I plan on just letting it rip,” Solberg said. “I’m going to try and be relaxed and not get too hard on myself. My plan is to just play my game – stay aggressive, make the other girl run point by point and game by game.”

Win or lose against Brills, Solberg will return to the court today at noon, either in the championship or the consolation round.

Her opponent will be either senior Danielle Donahue of Eagan or freshman Haley Lickfold of Shakopee.

“I have put a tremendous amount of court time in to get where I am now and playing in the state tournament is a great way to end a high school career,” Solberg said.

“I’m excited for the match to begin.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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