The 2018 Girls State Tennis Tournament that kicks off on Wednesday — a day earlier than normal due to weather concerns — and will feature a nice mix of the old and the new.
Among the very familiar, defending champion Sioux Falls Lincoln will be perhaps a slight favorite to author a three-peat with top challenges coming from perennial challengers Sioux Falls O’Gorman and Rapid City Stevens. And the new: perhaps the most balanced field in years according to Stevens’ coach Jason Olson.
“I wouldn’t say top three this year, I’d say top seven,” Olson said. “People are forgetting about Brandon Valley, Mitchell and St. Thomas More. All three teams are solid, and Watertown got quite a few (number) one votes in the last poll, so they are definitely a good team. We could finish anywhere from one to seven, there are honestly that many good teams.
Don Barnes, long-time Sioux Falls O’Gorman coach, is in full agreement.
“Lincoln, Stevens and us will be there as usual, but with a lot of other good teams on hand, this may be the most competitive state tournament in the last 10 years,” Barnes said. “And while we all have solid teams, Lincoln, Stevens and us all have some holes. We are not super powerful from top to bottom as we might have been in the past.”
One of the spots where O’Gorman, last year’s runners-up, definitely does not have a hole is at No. 1 singles where senior Danielle Sebata returns seeking a fourth consecutive state title, an achievement that will move her among the pantheon of previous O’Gorman greats, Nancy Rost (a five time state champion, 1976-80) and Morgan Brower (four-time, 2010-14).
Lincoln coach Tom Krueger concurs.
“The big three will definitely be in there, but Watertown will definitely be in there since they beat O’Gorman earlier this year, but St. Thomas More, (Aberdeen) Roncalli, and Brandon (Valley) are strong, too,” Krueger pointed out. “There are a number of teams with really solid players and so an upset or two could really change the dynamics of the tournament.”
The formidable Lincoln lineup includes sophomore Johanna Brower, last year’s flight two state champion, at No. 1 while fellow sophomore, Ava Leonard, returns to defend her flight two individual title.
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Stevens (26-3 in dual competition this year) and a third-place finisher in 2017, has gone toe-to-toe with the two Sioux Falls powerhouses this season, splitting with Lincoln and playing two competitive matches with O’Gorman.
Katie Conrad, the Raiders No. 3 in singles, will be looking to add a 2018 state title to the 2017 flight five winning trophy, while seniors Peyton Forney (flight one) Ashley Lundstrom (flight two) hope to cap their prep careers impressively as well.
Abbie Dehler (4), Julia Wiedmeier (5) and Erica Wing (6) round out the Raider singles lineup.
Junior Ainsleigh Scott, a solid competitor against all comers this season, will lead the St. Thomas More contingent joining seniors Rachel Schmahl (flight 3) and Megan Achbach (6), junior Katherine Achback (5) and impressive eighth graders Bridget Raymond (2) and Ali Scott (4).
For Rapid City Central coach Lynne Steinley, seniors McKenzey Crowley (1), and Dayton Franke (2) will be closing out their prep careers while junior Ara Friederich (6), freshmen Harper Keim (4) and Kiana Johnson (5), and eighth grader Lindsey Pfingston look to gain valuable experience.
And Coach Teresa Postma’s young Rapid City Christian team will close out what has been a successful season with a lineup of freshman Ella Hancock (flight 1), junior Paige Wagner (3), and sophomores Julia Anderson (2), Bridget Schneller (4), Taylor Maher (5) and Anna Ligtenberg (6).
The decision to by the South Dakota High School Activities Association to move singles matches up a day to avoid possible delays is likely a plus for all, player and spectator alike, with a weather forecast of rainy weather on Thursday.
“I’m very glad to see that officials chose to be very proactive because of the weather and doing what they can to get the matches in,” St. Thomas More coach Joanne Achbach said. “Our kids are excited to get out in good conditions (Wednesday) and hopefully make something happen.”
The amended schedule is expected to commence at approximately 3 p.m. with play at both Sioux Park (flights 1-3) and Parkview (4-6).