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Fairmont ready to return to tennis courts for opener

SET FOR OPENER — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals girls tennis lineup opening the season against Osseo and Spring Lake Park on Friday morning at the Reed-Sweatt Tennis Club in Minneapolis include, front row (l-r): Lilly Laven, Elly Stegge, Jaydon Moses, Madi Peyman and Hadley Artz. Middle row: Paige Linse, Solveig Senf, Brynn Gustafson, Johanna Petschke and Hope Klanderud. Back row: Assistant coach Tim Slama, Anika Haugen, Jenna Spencer, Emelia Klanderud, Ellie Plumhoff, Abi Peyman and head coach Laura Olsen. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — Fairmont’s girls tennis team captured the outright Big South Conference championship, earned the program’s first sectional crown in 27 years, garnered fourth place at the Class A state tournament and compiled a record-setting 19-4 dual-meet record in 2021.

Impressive achievements by any standard, especially during the first full season as a head varsity coach.

But Laura Olsen, who enters her third official year at the Cardinals’ helm (Fairmont missed the Minnesota State High School League playoffs due to Martin County’s high Covid-19 numbers in the fall of 2020), and assistant coach Tim Slama will be the last ones to take credit for a historic campaign last autumn.

“It was an incredible season last fall and we’ll miss last year’s seniors, but we’re excited about building a team for the future now,” said Olsen, whose lineup will open the season at the same location where it ended 2021 — the home of the state tournament at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.

Fairmont will connect on its first serves against Spring Lake Park in a 10:40 a.m. dual meet Friday before facing Osseo in a 12:30 p.m. contest at the Reed-Sweatt facility.

“I always like to start the season with a quick turnaround,” Olsen said in reference to just four days of practice before her team squares off in a non-league triangular. “It gives us a chance to get some of the nerves out of our system early on and helps us to gauge where we’re at and what we need to work on.

“I think our summer program really helps our players prepare for playing actual matches during the opening week, too. They’re on the courts several hours each week, and that helps get them in condition.”

The Cardinals travel to Mound-Westonka on Monday before opening their home schedule at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday by playing host to Maple River at the Cardinal Courts in Fairmont.

So, what will Olsen, Slama and the Cardinal netters do for an encore performance in 2022?

“I think we’ll be competitive with a number of players returning from last year’s state-qualifying team, in addition to a number of junior varsity players who have made progress over the summer,” said Olsen. “Once fall practice started, some of our girls knew it was time to kick it into gear and get going, and that’s going to make Tim and my job tougher in determining a varsity lineup.”

Senior tri-captain Johanna Petschke returns after combining court skills with senior Anika Haugen at third doubles during last fall’s state run, along with junior Abi Peyman — who played at No. 4 singles — and junior Hope Klanderud — who played at No. 2 doubles.

“Abi and Hope will likely battle it out for the No. 1 singles spot, but it’ll be a big jump for both of them, so we’ll have to have realistic expectations and goals at that position in the lineup,” said Olsen. “Hope is our utility player of the tennis world in that we can use her either as a singles player or a doubles player.”

Senior tri-captains Lilly Laven and Solveig Senf, who proved solid junior varsity players last fall, also will figure into the varsity mix this season.

Freshman Madi Peyman and junior Elly Stegge have hit the ball well in the early stages of practice and also will vie for varsity playing time.

Eighth-grader Emelia Klanderud and the junior tandem of Jaydon Moses and Ellie Plumhoff will compete for matches, along with the senior trio of Paige Linse, Jenna Spencer and Hadley Artz, and junior Brynn Gustafson this fall.

“Jenna has been really consistent so far and definitely could be a contender for varsity, but it’s going to be a neck-and-neck competition among all of the girls,” said Olsen. “For it being her first time out (for tennis), Hadley seems to be picking up the game quickly due to her athleticism.”

Olsen anticipates that St. James Area — which was both the conference and section runner-up to Fairmont in 2021 — and St. Peter will be two of the top competitors during the regular schedule and postseason in 2022.

“St. James is always a top tennis program, while St. Peter played a number of younger girls last fall that have potential,” said Olsen.

After setting the bar high last fall, does Olsen have any motivating credo for the upcoming season?

“Nope, I keep it simple. My coaching philosophy stays the same — do your best and don’t worry about what you can’t control, and focus on what you can control. There are too many variables in tennis and in life overall to dwell upon them too much,” said Olsen. “We’re not only trying to grow quality tennis players, but we want to grow quality people, too.

“I told the girls it’d be fun to go to state again, but we just have to take it one shot at a time.”

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