Fairmont tennis returns skilled nucleus

FIRST SERVE — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals girls tennis team opening the season against Monticello and Osseo today in Minneapolis include, front row (l-r): Claire Nemmers, Maggy Totzke, Briana Joseph, Abigail Peyman, Hope Klanderud, Madison Northwick and Izzy Munsch. Back row: Ellie Hernes, Lauren Davis, Emily Hagen, Libby Totzke, Bergen Senf, Anika Haugen, Paige Hainy, Shannon Green and Lauren Green. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — After a season of major improvement in 2018, the Fairmont Cardinals girls tennis team enters the 2019 season ready to continue its upward trajectory.

Last season, the Cardinals ended their year with a 13-9 record, nine wins better than their 2017 finish. Their season of development led to a Section 3AA semifinal appearance against the eventual section runner-up Blue Earth Area.

While the Cardinals lost Sydney Hainy, Natalie Abel and Brittany Bass to graduation, Fairmont returns most of its starting lineup from last season. Three key sophomores return for the Cardinals regular lineup.

Sophomores Claire Nemmers, Briana Joseph and Maggy Totzke will likely be three of the top four players on the team, alongside junior Lauren Green, though they might not always be the Cardinals’ singles players.

Fairmont head coach Eric Johnson said his lineup isn’t set yet, but those sophomores will play big roles.

“Our top players have kind of separated themselves a bit,” Johnson said. “Briana Joseph has vastly improved, Claire Nemmers is, they’re both really good players. Maggy Totzke and Lauren Green, those four are just really good players that have gotten a lot better. We’re really excited about them, they’ll be in the mix for singles, they may not always be the four singles players. We’ll use one or two of them for doubles sometimes because they’re all very versatile players that can play both singles and doubles.”

The Cardinals had only four days of practice between the start of practice and their first match today. Johnson said the first couple of days were spent playing an intra-squad tournament to help determine who the top players were.

“It’s kind of a sorting process to see where everyone is at and let me see what we really need to work on,” Johnson said. “I was really happy with the intra-squad matches, the quality of play was really high.

“Emily Hagen came out and looked really, really good. Bergen Senf, a returner from last year, played really well. Lauren Davis, Ellie Hernes is coming up, too. We’ve got some depth, we’ve got some new players we’re really excited about and we’ll see where things fall with them. Things look promising.”

With many players showing promise, the Cardinals are set up to have a successful season, but Johnson said he doesn’t like to focus on long-term seasonal goals, instead choosing to focus on playing high-quality tennis every time the girls step on the court.

“We’re just so focused on what’s happening tomorrow, what can we work on and get better at right now,” Johnson said. “Those goals will take care of themselves. The main goal every year is the same, we’d like to make it to the state tournament, that’s what everyone wants. But really most of the talk is, ‘What can I do today to get better tomorrow?’ Then, ‘What can I do tomorrow to really get better and stay focused?'”

Part of staying focused and getting better is celebrating good performance, Johnson said. For anyone who has been to a Cardinal tennis match, it’s clear to hear the players cheering each other on throughout each game.

“Walking out among them (the players) they’re just great kids,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just become part of the culture and most of the credit goes to the kids. … “

Johnson said along with the culture of being vocal comes a culture of working hard to help the team. He said he appreciates the effort the Cardinal girls put in over the summer to be ready as soon as the season begins.

“These are girls that are not just now picking up a racket when tennis starts,” Johnson said. “They’re in a lot of things, but they really know how to take the time they have and make the most of it. They know they need to work in the offseason and they find the time without going crazy. … They know they’re committed to tennis and committed to being a top-level team and there are certain things they need to do for that. They do a really good job and I really appreciate that they do make the effort.”

This season, the Cardinals return assistant coaches Laura Olsen, Norah Laven and Tony Joseph. Johnson said he can see how much the players love the assistant coaches and he appreciates them being back helping the team.

The Cardinals open their season with a triangular against Monticello and Osseo at 9 a.m. today in Minneapolis, then travel to Mapleton on Tuesday to play Maple River.

On Tuesday, Fairmont will travel to Mapleton to face Maple River at 10 a.m.

Fairmont will not play its first home meet until it faces United South Central on the Cardinal Courts at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26.