FHS tennis set for opening serve

Members of the Fairmont Cardinals tennis lineup opening the season by playing host to Austin on Monday at the Cardinal Courts in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Sebastian Castro, Ian Fortune, Carter Quist, Noah Vetter, Hudson Laven, Reed Wagner and Olivia Ortega. Middle row: Ameye Komaragiri, Aaron Hendricks, Jack Hagen, Pete Ortega, Jeb Green and Parker Vetter. Back row: Christo Washa, Blake Haugen, Tyrell Zieske, Evan Carlson, Stuart Smick, Thomas Klanderud and Ethan Grunewald. (Photo by Greg Abel)

The difference a year can make. Fairmont head coach Eric Johnson and his Cardinals boys tennis team synchronized a modified bucket-brigade system to clear snow off the courts last April.

While the last remnants of this winter can be seen outside the Cardinal Courts’ fences, Johnson’s players have been able to trade their shovels for tennis rackets for the majority of their preseason practices in Fairmont this spring.

“It was a little chilly during the first week of practice, but we’re happy that we’ve been able to hit outside, run drills and work on the fundamentals without wearing a lot of layers (of clothing),” said Johnson, who guided the Cardinals to a 9-6 dual-meet record and a runner-up showing to St. Peter in the Big South Conference’s East Division in 2018. “We’re back to practicing situational tennis, making decisions on the court and working through them to create an actual match setting.

“The first 30-40 minutes (of practice), we focus on footwork and think about what spots to hit on the court. We’re just re-inforcing habits that are fundamental to the game.”

While Fairmont lost Class A singles state qualifier Carter Klanderud to graduation, Johnson does return a skilled nucleus this spring.

Junior Tyrell Zieske will look to contend for the vacated No. 1 singles position after delivering team points from the No. 3 spot in the bracket a year ago.

Sophomore Thomas Klanderud, who played first doubles with graduated teammate Connor Madsen during the sectional team tournament, also will contend for a singles spot.

Sophomore Ameye Komaragiri and junior Blake Haugen — who combined court skills at No. 2 doubles in the playoffs, along with junior Evan Carlson and senior Jeb Green — who netted the Cardinals’ lone team tally in the Section 1A team semifinals against Rochester Lourdes, also will figure into the starting rotation.

“We’ve got a solid returning core,” said Johnson. “It’ll take some time to figure out which one will step up to fill that No. 1 singles spot since there’s not a clear-cut favorite yet.”

Junior Aaron Hendricks, who has some varsity playing experience, along with senior Pete Ortega, senior Stuart Smick and sophomore Ethan Grunewald, also will vie for positions in the Cardinals’ starting lineup.

“Aaron and Stuart have had success at the junior varsity level for us, while Pete came close to playing varsity last year,” said Johnson. “And Ethan has really improved during the offseason, so we’ll have some options.

“During our intersquad matches, I haven’t seen any rust, so the quality of our play is very good so far.”

Johnson anticipates that most of the above mentioned players also will see some doubles action throughout the upcoming season.

“We’ll shift some players around and make the necessary changes to help us accommodate our lineup’s chances against opposing teams,” said Johnson.

Johnson anticipates Rochester Lourdes being the favorite in the Section 1A team tournament after winning the crown in 2018.

“Cotter has a solid core back, St. James always puts together a competitive team, and Schaeffer Academy only lost one player from last season’s team,” Johnson said in reference to the section.

Fairmont hosts Austin in a 4:30 p.m. season opener Monday before playing its next two duals and a quadrangular on the road during the ensuing seven-day span.