Girls tennis preview: Majority returns for Eagles girls tennis

Jason Olson
Sports Editor

Lily Fredrickson, Annika Johnson, Rochelle Johnson and Nicole Ruppert will lead a senior-laden Eden Prairie tennis team when the team begins fall practices Monday.

(SUN SAILOR STAFF PHOTO BY jason olson) Tennis campers gathered on the courts at Central Middle School Tuesday morning to have fun and learn about the game from members of the Eagles varsity team.
(SUN SAILOR STAFF PHOTO BY jason olson)
Tennis campers gathered on the courts at Central Middle School Tuesday morning to have fun and learn about the game from members of the Eagles varsity team.

Eagles coach Donna Ricco explained that she decided on the four captains not only because of the sheer number of seniors, seven, coming out for the team but that each of four captains offered something different to the team. “They were all fun to work with this summer and really enjoy being around each other. Three of the four have been together in the program since ninth grade so they really know each other well.”

Even before the first official team practice, the Eagles put in a lot of time working on their individual games culminating with two weeks of captains practice before focusing in on the regular season that begins with two matches at Lakeville North on August 21. The Eagles open against Lakeville North at 9 a.m. followed by a second match against Owatonna at 11 a.m. Eden Prairie welcomes Maple Grove to the Round Lake courts for the home opener at 4 p.m. Friday, August 25.

The second week included the popular kids clinic at Central Middle School last Tuesday and Wednesday morning where more than two dozen youngsters had fun while learning about the sport with some help from the varsity tennis players.

“They run the whole thing,” Ricco explained about the team-organized fundraiser event that helps introduce kids to the game.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Fredrickson said as the most rewarding part of leading the kids comes from seeing them enjoying playing tennis. “Sometimes they want to do other things but when I see them want to play tennis and have fun, that’s super cool to see.”

Eden Prairie tennis campers creatively decorated the courts at Central Middle School during Tuesday’s camp led by Eden Prairie High School varsity girls tennis players. (Sun Current staff photo by Jason Olson)
Eden Prairie tennis campers creatively decorated the courts at Central Middle School during Tuesday’s camp led by Eden Prairie High School varsity girls tennis players. (Sun Current staff photo by Jason Olson)

Junior Brooke Lewis, a standout on the basketball court and lacrosse field was among the top doubles players for the Eagles last season. “It’s just really fun to work with teammates and build the youth. Kids are always fun to work with,” she explained between leading drills.

Two players graduated in 2016 which offers a bit of continuity from last season and a real chance to build on a No. 4 seed in the Section 2AA North Sub-Section tournament. The Eagles beat out No. 5 Shakopee 4-3 in the final home match to begin section play before top-seeded and eventual section champ Prior Lake ended it in the second round.

The Eagles fared better at doubles and singles sections with Fredrickson and Lewis earning the fourth seed and made it to the sub-section semifinals. Ruppert was seeded seventh and won the opener.

Looking ahead, Ricco anticipates Fredrickson, who played primarily at No. 1 singles last fall to return to that spot with Ruppert another solid singles contributor.

Lewis comes into 2017 searching for a new doubles partner, but Ricco might shift positions around.

Annika Johnson played at third singles last season and a back injury might force her to miss at least a portion of the season.

The coach anticipates a hearty number of younger players trying out for the squad. Middle schoolers are encouraged to tryout but they cannot play for the junior varsity team if they don’t have a spot on the varsity team.

“We always have high expectations,” Ricco said as Prior Lake and Minnetonka will be the favorites once again in the section, despite the Skippers losing 2016 state champion Bella Lambert. “We’re hoping to get a little closer to those teams because it’s always nice to get to play down at Gustavus (section host site).”

Ricco noticed an up-tick in the number of off-season tennis played, more so than previous years. “I hope that brings them in ready to go and stronger than last year even,” she explained as they were a stronger doubles team.

Fredrickson, Rochelle Johnson and Ruppert, among others, played junior team tennis since the end of the season last fall. Ruppert served as a tennis instructor at Round Lake this summer and Fredrickson played in an ITA tournament at Gustavus against some formidable competition. She drew a first-round opponent who trains at IMG Academy in Florida during the summer. The lack of more tournaments came about after heing the lacrosse team clinch the state title in June, her second state title in as many seasons with the spring varsity sport.

“We got to play a lot tougher competition and stretched how we play together so hopefully we can use that this season to get some wins,” Lewis said about her partnership that translated from lacrosse. “We’re pretty good friends and hopefully we can play more from captains (practice) and tryouts.”

Lewis was more of a net player last season, focusing on cutting off a cross-court shot to add the points up quickly. This year she’s focused more on building ground strokes and continuing to develop more consistency with her serve.

Follow sports editor Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason.