Expectations up for Rebels girls tennis

Champlin Park senior Anna Markgraf returns a shot during practice last week. Markgraf will play No. 2 singles for the Rebels this fall. (Photo by Nick Clark)
Champlin Park senior Anna Markgraf returns a shot during practice last week. Markgraf will play No. 2 singles for the Rebels this fall. (Photo by Nick Clark)

Team returns its top three singles players

The bar has been set for the Champlin Park girls tennis team, and it has been quite some time since it has reached this level.

Momentum can create such reasoning, and the Rebels should still have plenty of that.

Two years ago with a trio of sophomores playing in the top three singles positions, Champlin Park managed only three wins. But last year, with those same three back atop the line-up, the Rebels upped that win total to 13.

Naturally, with No. 1 Riley Abeyesekera, No. 2 Anna Markgraf and No. 3 Sarah Handel back for one more go, another improvement is expected.

“We’ve had another year to mature and get better, so I think the skill will be better this year in our lineup,” said Abeyesekera. “We’ve had a lot of competition to set up our lineup, and we’ve had a lot of challenge matches to see who will play what spot. It’s been really competitive.”

Head coach Luke Shaw agreed, noting the 20-plus girls he said are good enough to play in one of the 10 varsity scoring roles.

Through last week, most of the line-up had solidified itself through that challenge match process. Abeyesekera, Markgraf and Handel were No.’s 1, 2 and 3, and senior Breanna Montognese played her way into the No. 4 singles spot.

The No.1 doubles team of seniors Elizabeth Kelly and Stephanie Lindgren moved up from the No. 2 spot a year ago, when the two went 17-5 as juniors.

Sophomore Jessica Kelly (Elizabeth’s younger sister) and classmate Emily Sjostrom also move up a spot this year to No. 2 after a similarly successful season in the third doubles position.

“They were 18-4 last year,” Shaw said. “That gives us two really strong doubles teams to go with all the experience we have in singles. That’s about all a coach can ask for.”

An easier decision about what two girls will make up the final doubles team could be another question Shaw would like answered. Then again, what makes that answer so intriguing has been the difficulty in which it has taken to figure it out.

“We have about a dozen players fighting to get on that doubles team,” Shaw said. “That’s a good problem to have. Other years, we haven’t had that privilege. But it makes it harder to wade through all the ability levels to make sure we get the right people on the court.”

Ninth-grader Daniel Wolf and sophomore Samantha Conzette earned the right to hold down the third doubles team as the season started last weekend, but Shaw added that is certainly subject to change.

“We have to see how they handle it,” he said. “Sometimes girls are very strong in practice and they can beat people in practice, and then in matches, it is a different situation. We’ll play that by ear, because we really have four doubles teams that could play that third spot.”

The players will have plenty of time to audition early on this fall.

All around the Rebels practice last week, teams were preparing for the seasons. That included a football team prepping for its Aug. 30 season opener on the north side of the Champlin Park tennis courts.

By then, the girls tennis team will have played six matches. Three of them came last weekend as the girls hosted their annual AKAI Invitational. The girls were off all of this week, but then had matches scheduled for Aug. 27 at home against Robbinsdale Cooper, and road trips to Maple Grove Aug. 28 and Coon Rapids Aug. 30.

School, it should be noted, doesn’t even begin until Sept. 4.

“I think it is nice to start in the summer so by the time school starts we are already in the swing of things,” Abeyesekera said. “We’ll know what to expect, because we’re already used to it.”