Fairmont boys tennis team set for quick start to season
FAIRMONT — “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
While not an official motto, those words have long been associated with the United States Postal worker.
Long-time Fairmont head coach Eric Johnson can relate directly to the above environmental challenges when it comes to getting the Cardinals’ boys tennis program prepared for each and every spring campaign during the 2000s.
Johnson and the Cardinals literally scooped their way to a 9-6 dual-meet record by utilizing a bucket brigade-like system to remove more than a foot of snow from the Fairmont courts in April of 2018.
Two years later, like every high school athletic program in the state of Minnesota, Johnson and his netters missed the entire season due to the lingering COVID pandemic that has created numerous challenging protocols still in place.
Due to delaying the start of this spring prep sports seasons by two weeks via the Minnesota State High School League’s restructured scheduling, now Johnson and the Fairmont boys tennis program face at least two more challenges.
First, the youthful Cardinals open the 2021 season by playing host to the Albert Lea Tigers at 4:30 p.m. today in Fairmont with only three practices on their rackets. Second, Fairmont’s players worked on their hitting techniques in projectory-changing high-velocity winds all three days.
Johnson and his Cardinals, however, have managed to maintain positive attitudes in their approach to the upcoming season.
“After missing the entire season last spring, and not being able to run a normal (USTA) summer program, we really are just happy to be playing again,” said Johnson. “We’re just trying to shake the rust off and keep our expectations somewhat low to begin with and build from there.”
Fortunately for Fairmont, senior Ameya Komaragiri and Thomas Klanderud return to the Cardinal Courts with the most varsity experience, and will serve as the team’s captains during the pandemic-modified 2021 season.
“I’m sure that Ameya and Thomas will play singles for us this spring, with Jack (Hagen) and Ian (Fortune) being possible singles players, although we may rotate both of them into doubles, too,” said Johnson.
Komaragiri and Klanderud each represented the Cardinals in the Section 1A individual tennis tournament’s doubles bracket in 2019, while Hagen and Fortune also netted a number of matches at the varsity level in doubles two years ago.
“Since our opener against Albert Lea is a nonconference meet, we’ll treat it like a scrimmage to help us (Johnson and assistant coach Laura Olsen) evaluate where we’re at (skill-wise) and what we need to work on,” said Johnson.
Johnson and Olsen will look to a relatively youthful roster to fill out the rest of the Cardinals’ starting lineup.
Parker Vetter and Weston Loughmiller round out the seniors, although Loughmiller is out for tennis for his first time this spring.
Noah Vetter joins Hagen and Fortune as the only sophomores on the roster, while Sebastian Castro and Carter Quist will be the lone freshmen penciled into the lineup in some capacity.
Dominic Lund May, Simone Castro and Oliver Thedens will be the eighth-grade presence on the squad, with seventh-graders Zachary Ashland and Wylee Fredriksen rounding out the roster.
In an interesting spin of the racket, Fortune, Lund May and Noah Vetter all are left-handers on the playing surface.
“We’re used to having a lefty or two, but it is a little unusual to have three on the same team,” said Johnson. “Lefties can be a challenge to play against with their serves and returns coming from a different angle.”
After playing host to Albert Lea this afternoon, Fairmont will hit the road to Worthington on Tuesday, April 6, before making the long haul to Luverne on Thursday, April 8.
“We’ve got some good kids on this team and they’re a tight-knit group,” said Johnson. “It was difficult on these players not to be able to be around each other last spring or summer, so we lost a little bit of that family atmosphere we usually have.
“Now we just need to find a way to rebuild that, and enjoy having the chance to play tennis together again this season.”