Younger players step up on girls tennis team
For the first time in recent memory, it can be said that the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls tennis team graduated its core but will step onto the court this fall with a blend of youth and experience.
In the past, senior-heavy teams have struggled the following year when those players graduate. But co-coach Steve Rickstrom says the 2014 Lumberjacks will be both young and court-savvy.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Rickstrom said. “We come back with basically a new crop — but not a new crop — of players.”
The core of last year’s team is gone — “we were murdered with graduation,” Rickstrom said — but young players who have waited their turn in the program are ready to stand in.
One of those players is a sophomore who will play No. 1 singles. Rosalie Lundquist, who saw varsity time as a freshman last year, will get the nod as the team’s top player according to Rickstrom.
“She is a sophomore and that makes me happy,” Rickstrom said. “It will be a tough assignment for her but she can certainly play, and she’s our best.”
At the team’s scrimmage against Holy Angels Academy on Saturday, Lundquist took her match to a third set tiebreaker.
“We played Holy Angels tough all up and down the roster and that was a very pleasant surprise for me,” Rickstrom said.
This year’s team has only three seniors, including captain and doubles player Abbey Wangen. Annika Hammitt and Kali Kadelbach are the other two upperclassmen in the squad.
But there is experience coming back in the underclass as well.
“Courtney Ketola of Esko, Lexi Robideaux of Cloquet and Hailey Martin of Cloquet are all juniors who played some last year, with Lexi and Hailey playing varsity,” Rickstrom said. “(Sophomore) McKenzie Ketola and (freshman) Ally Martin are both back too. McKenzie will probably be a full time starter and Ally has been playing doubles with Annika Hammitt so there is experience in that group, too.”
This year’s roster has 12 players with experience and 12 beginners on it — again, boding well for the team’s future.
But as this next wave of players comes through, they’ll do it without their longtime coach. Rickstrom announced at the start of practice that he will step away from the girls program after this season.
As a result, longtime assistant Derek Johnson is now co-coach, and will make many of the playing decisions as the season wears on.
“I’ve told Derek that I’ll defer to his judgment on those decisions so he has experience when he steps in full time next year,” Rickstrom said. Rickstrom will make a decision on staying with the boys team after the girls season ends.
That said, the future of the girls program looks fairly strong.
“We’re still fighting an uphill battle with facilities and other schools having indoor playing opportunities,” Rickstrom said. “The commitment to producing a top-ranked tennis player is hard. But we have a few seventh-graders now who are as enthusiastic as our present group ever was at that age.
“We’ve got good players as 10th-graders, McKenzie Ketola started as a seventh-grader and hopefully we will have good players that Derek can talk about in a couple years.”
The old bugaboo for the program — the weather — has already reared its ugly head. Monday’s Mora tournament was rained out and rescheduled for next Monday, Tuesday’s Lake Superior Conference opener at Superior was also washed out and Thursday the team faces Duluth East, which was the best team in the area last year and graduated no seniors.
“We’ll have Friday off to practice and play at a tournament in North Branch on Saturday,” Rickstrom said. “It’s odd for the girls in that about half our schedule is always played before school starts to take advantage of the weather. It cuts into early season practice time.”