The usual prediction when previewing the girls state tennis tournament recently has been to select Sioux Falls Lincoln as the team to beat, not surprising given that the Patriots will be seeking a fourth consecutive state title this week.

And one more time since it may be Déjà vu all over again this week when play commences at the Class AA tournament in Sioux Falls Thursday and concludes on Friday.

Though an element of suspense remains, according to Rapid City Stevens coach Jason Olson.

“Lincoln is still an overwhelming favorite, but I don’t think its necessarily a done deal,” Olson said. “I think there are some teams that have a chance. If St. Thomas More is playing their best tennis, they could conceivably win one through four singles and one and two doubles if they are playing well. I think those two are the toughest teams because of that strength up top, but Brandon Valley is a solid team and O’Gorman is solid in all flights and their four, five and six have been successful all year.”

St. Thomas More coach Keiz Larson was a little more guarded in assessing her team’s chances, though she is impressed with how her team has been playing heading into state.

“The girls have worked hard and we have seen huge improvement throughout the season, and I was really pleased with the performance last weekend (East-West dual matches in Rapid City),” Larson said. “I think they are playing their best tennis right. However, the girls have to show up on the day of the matches and that’s what makes state interesting.”

Ainsleigh Scott (21-3 at flight 1), Bridget Raymond (25-1 at 2), Vanessa Wittenberg (22-4 at 3) and Ali Scott (25-1 at 4) give St. Thomas More a potent punch in the top flights. The Cavalier top two doubles team have been impressive as well — Ainsleigh Scott and Wittenberg are 20-3 in flight 1 doubles, and the Raymond/Ali Scott tandem is 25-1 in flight 2.

The best chances for a Rapid City Stevens competitor to reach the top steps of the victory podium probably comes in the lower flights. Sophomore Abby Sherrill is 27-6 in flight 5 play this year and junior Macy Lundstrom is 21-9 in flight 6. And the Lundstrom and Sherrill duo are 24-7 in flight 3 doubles.

Also competing, will be a very young Rapid City Central team with sophomore Harper Keim at flight 1 singles and 9th grader Lindsey Pfingston at flight 2.

This year’s state tournament will feature a new format with the decision by the SDHSAA to split girls tennis into two classes this year — Mitchell won the Class A title earlier in the week. With the new format, a state tournament that bracketed 23 teams in the past will be reduced to 12 teams this year.

The reduced schedule will make for some exciting early round tennis according to Sioux Falls Lincoln coach Tom Krueger.

“It used to be that the first round that the top-seeds played the bottom teams in the state,” Krueger explained. “But now though if you are seeded one though four you do get a bye in the first round, but now in the second round they will be playing a better player in the second round and will have to come out sharp in the first match.”

Individuals that should standout this weekend in flight 1 singles include Lincoln’s Johana Brower, the defending champion in flight one singles, Brandon Valley’s Tanna Lehfeldt, and St. Thomas More’s Ainsleigh Scott who snapped Brower’s season long undefeated streak last weekend.

In addition to Brower, Lincoln will send out three other defending champions: Ava Leonard (flight 2), Brita Quello (flight 4) and Avery Blackman (flight 5).

Play begins at 8 a.m. on Thursday and concludes with championship play on Friday. The matches are tentatively scheduled to be played at McKennan and Kuehn Park though a very iffy forecast will likely result in the play being moved to one of the three indoors court locations in Sioux Falls (Match Point, Woodlake, and McKennan).

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