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Netters off to fast start

The Raider girls tennis team huddles for a pep talk on their brand new courts at Hudson High School prior to their first Big Rivers Conference match against the River Falls Wildcats Thursday, Aug. 24. Photo courtesy of John Knutson

The Raider girls tennis team didn't have long to prepare for the 2017 season.

With just three days of practice under their belts, the Raiders traveled to Eau Claire Saturday, Aug. 12, for a tournament co-hosted by Eau Claire North and Eau Claire Memorial.

After going 2-1 in Eau Claire, the team headed across the state Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 21-22, for the two-day Green Bay Southwest Sweet 16 Tournament, where they went 3-1 to finish fifth. They played their first home match in over a year Thursday, Aug. 24, against River Falls and came away with a 6-1 victory.

Head coach John Knutson said the Raiders are young at the top of the lineup, but have a nice mix of youth and experience.

"Even with the pressure, the young players have really come through for us, but it will come with some lumps along the way too," he noted. "All in all, we have a lot to look forward to for the rest of the season."

Hudson has a pair of sophomores—Ella Diedrich and Lauren Stolzman—carrying the weight at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively, with freshman Sophia Jonas also in the singles rotation.

"To balance out the younger kids we have a good mix of senior leadership with the likes of Taylor Owens and Anna Wilgren playing No. 1 doubles," Knutson said. "Then Lexi LeFever is another senior who, combined with Laura Douglas, has seen a lot of success. And finally we have two juniors in Anni Lewis and Kate Johnson who have also won most of their matches on the young year."

Hudson picked up a 5-2 victory over Altoona in the first match of the year in Eau Claire Aug. 12, with Stolzman, Jonas and Holly LeBrun earning singles victories and LeFever and Douglas, and Lewis and Johnson, winning in doubles.

Hudson's three doubles team swept Eau Claire Regis by identical 6-0 6-0 scores in the next round but Regis took all four singles matches to pull out a 4-3 victory.

The Raiders ended the day by blanking Superior, 7-0, with Britney Conway earning her first win of the season at No. 4 singles.

On the first day of the Sweet 16 tournament in Green Bay, the Raiders defeated Manitowoc, 5-2, before dropping a 6-1 decision to perennial state powerhouse Neenah. They beat Wausau East, 5-2, Tuesday before clinching fifth place with a 5-2 win over Pulaski.

Knutson said the No. 3 doubles team of Lewis and Johnson showed plenty of grit in a two-set 6-4, 6-3 for the Raiders lone point against Neenah.

"We had matches where our kids won some games, but winning a match like Anni and Kate did against Neenah was really something," he said. "They were on the top of their game to beat one of the best teams in the state."

The Raiders finally got to christen their new courts Thursday, Aug. 24, against River Falls and came away with a 6-1 victory. Stolzman, LeBrun and Jonas won in straight sets at the No. 2 through No. 4 singles spots, respectively, while Owens and Wilgren rolled, 6-0 6-0 at No. 1 doubles, LeFever and Douglas won, 6-3-6-3, at No. 2, and Lewis and Johnson earned a 7-5, 6-0 win at No. 3.

Knutson said with a 6-2 record at this point of the season, he's happy with how the Raiders are playing.

"Our doubles teams are once again dominating with us sweeping all three doubles matches most of the time," he said. "We've had a little trouble winning our singles matches. Our team is pretty deep but we're rotating the lineup a little trying to find the right people to play in the right positions for singles."

Hudson returns to action at home Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 4 p.m. against Menomonie.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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