BY ROB LAPLANTE
When it came to naming this year’s Mississippi 8 all-conference team, the St. Michael-Albertville girls’ tennis squad had half its starting lineup recognized.
Senior’s Cierra Eystad, Kylie Slavin, Halley Fritze and junior Jessica Duda all finished all-conference and senior’s Breanna Hagerty, Kristina Budde and freshman Kiana Eystad were recognized as honorable mentions.
The seven players recognized were part of the 2012 M-8 Conference champions. The Knights posted a record of 18-5 and for the first time, advanced to the Section 5AA semifinals before losing to top-seed Mounds View.
“We knew going into the year we would have one of our strongest teams,” Slavin said. “We had so many seniors and experienced players that played the year before. Being co-champions with Buffalo, beating them on the second to last match of the season was the highlight.”
Cierra Eystad and Hagerty were two of eight seniors and the most experienced players, both four-year varsity letter-winners. Slavin was a three-year varsity player and Fritze, Budde, Michaela Haraldson, Erika Duley and Brittney Ferrian all were repeat letter-winners.
“We will sure miss these girls,” said head coach Jim Riles. “We are concerned with all these seniors graduating, but we have Jessica Duda and Kiana Eystad retruning at singles and three other junior letter-winners returning in Brittany Haas, Missy Gust and Anna Moritz.”
Duda spent most the year playing at No. 2 singles and posted a winning record at that spot. She lost four matches this year filling in for Cierra Eystad when playing at No. 1 singles. Riles said she will move Duda to No. 1 singles next season and Kianna Eystad will move to No. 2 spot. The younger Eystad sister went a perfect 23-0 this season at No. 4 singles.
The Knights recently held its season-ending banquet, announcing its 2012 individual awards. Taking home the team’s Most Valuable Player honor was Slavin, who spent the entire season at No. 1 doubles.
“I was shocked,” said Slavin, who was paired most the year with Fritze at the top doubles spot. “Normally Cierra gets it every year, so I was surprised when they called my name, but I am honored.”
Other winners: Hardest Worker, Breanna Hagerty; Most Wins, Kiana Eystad; Most Improved, Emily Tschida; Rookie of the Year, Shelbie Olek;; and Most Spirit, Kristina Budde.