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High School Girls Tennis: Area teams gear up for section playoffs

Conference tournaments already are underway for many programs

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At No. 2 singles, Montevideo junior Emily Brace loads up a backhand shot during a match against Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd on Sept. 17 from Lac qui Parle Valley High School. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

GLENWOOD — Believe it or not, the high school postseason is right around the corner.

As pandemic-shortened regular seasons across four sports are entering their final stretch, girls tennis is the first to begin a modified second season. Section tournaments begin next week.

For many teams in the West Central Conference, this week’s conference tournament serves as a precursor.

The WCC tournament this season has been changed from individual gathering to a team competition broken into two separate brackets. The top bracket features the top-four seeds based on conference record while the consolation bracket involves the bottom-four seeds.

With six WCC teams a part of Section 6A, teams will have a chance to tinker with matchups and lineups prior to making it in the section tournament.

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Montevideo is the conference’s top overall seed and hosted No. 4 seed Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg on Tuesday. A state participant last season, No. 2 seed Minnewaska faced No. 3 Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta//West Central Area.

“This is a new experience for Minnewaska and any of the other West Central Area teams to do a team tournament for all-conference,” Lakers head coach Tara Reichmann said. “We’ve kind of gone in with a new attitude with this new change. I think the girls have really looked forward to playing again.”

The Lakers lost to the Thunder Hawks 4-3 in their season-opening match on Aug. 28. Since then, the defending Section 6A champions have been on fire. Minnewaska has won its last seven duals, collecting five 7-0 victories and dropping a total of two matches in its other two wins.

“Looking back on this season, it turned out to be a decent experience,” Reichmann said.

The Wright County Conference champion already has been decided and was crowned to a familiar squad.

Litchfield won the conference title after marching through the regular season with a 9-0 record entering Tuesday.

“The season has been pretty good,” Dragons head coach Matt Draeger said. “We lost four seniors from last year and had to fill them in. We’ve done pretty well and have played about as consistent as we could. When you’re undefeated, it feels good, but the undefeated (record) could come to an end at any time. We need to make strides forward.”

In a dual between undefeated teams, Litchfield was host to Le Sueur-Henderson on Tuesday with the top seed in Section 2A at stake. Afterward, the team concludes the regular season at home against Orono on Friday. From there, the Dragons can focus their attention to sections, although how they prepare for the tournament is different this time around.

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New London-Spicer head girls tennis coach Chad Schmiesing (middle) chats with the Wildcats' No. 2 doubles team of Ellie Hanson (left) and Jordan Proehl during a non-conference match against Staples-Motley on Sept. 1 in New London. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Fresh off three consecutive trips to state, Litchfield likely will not have that state target to aim for. While the Minnesota State High School League will discuss postseason competition during a board of directors meeting, teams do not expect a tennis state tournament will be planned.

“I think it hurts them motivation wise to come to practice every day without that end-goal in sight, but we’ve just tried to focus on the little goals,” Draeger said. “Last Thursday, we were able to win a conference championship, which is a little goal, and now we’re trying to win a section championship.”

Elsewhere in the Wright County Conference, defending Section 5A champion New London-Spicer has enjoyed a solid season thus far. The Wildcats won their first four duals and had a 5-3 match entering Tuesday’s matchup with Glencoe-Silver Lake. The team will close their regular season against Annandale on Thursday.

“When we first got word that we were going to be able to play a postseason and have a section tournament, that was enough incentive to really keep our girls motivated and focused on trying to improve to win our section tournament,” NLS head coach Chad Schmiesing said.

The Wildcats await where they will be seeded. The section coaches are set to vote on the seedings later this week. NLS was 3-0 against section opponents this season.

Regardless where they are placed in the bracket, the Wildcats know Staples-Motley will present a major challenge if the two teams meet. On Sept. 1, NLS defeated the Cardinals 4-3. The teams also battled during last season’s section championship.

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“We played them early in the season, had a great match with them and they’re definitely a team that can beat us.” Schmiesing said. “We also had a strong section final against them last year and they bring back most of their kids, so we know that they’ve got a really strong, good team and I’m sure they’ve been improving.”

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Willmar's Caroline Becker connects with a forehand during her No. 1 doubles match with teammate Adali Laidlaw in a Central Lakes Conference match against St. Cloud Apollo/Sauk Rapids on Aug. 25 at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Willmar will also learn its seeding in the expanded Section 8AA tournament later this week. Generally broken into North and South brackets, the section is scheduled to be one large tournament.

With the postseason on the horizon, the Cardinals are playing their best tennis. After a stretch of losing three straight duals, the team won two consecutive duals leading into their Central Lakes Conference finale against Rocori.

“I think we’re starting to come into our own and play better, so I’m super hopeful for sections,” Willmar head coach Amy Morrell said. “I think it’s been a good season. The girls have seemed really positive and have worked hard. I think they’ve taken the approach as everyday is a gift, knowing that it can end any day with COVID-19.”

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Litchfield No. 3 singles player Karlee Prahl hits a return shot during a Wright County Conference match against Annandale on Sept. 10 from Litchfield High School. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

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