Kading, Carlson return to state
It didn't take Nicole Brandt long to realize that Mary Kading and Alyssa Carlson had the talent to qualify for the state Class A girls tennis tournament in doubles.
"Mary and Alyssa are great tennis players. Both have qualities that they bring to the team that make them a winning combination. Mary has a great serve and her form is one of the best in our section. Alyssa has a great eye for the court and can place the ball anywhere. They are a lot of fun to watch and coach," said Brandt. "Right away in the season I was expecting them to return to state. I knew what the other teams were getting back and I felt that Mary and Alyssa would be able to beat those teams."
The Park Rapids duo backed up their coach's confidence by qualifying for the state meet with a runner-up effort at the Section 8A tournament. Kading and Carlson defeated Crookston's Rachel Lariviere and Jaclyn Proulx 6-4, 7-5 last Tuesday afternoon at Courts Plus in Fargo in a true-second match to earn that state berth.
Both competed in last year's state tournament, but with different partners. Kading teamed with Mindy Lawrence to defeat Carlson and Alyssa Klingenberg in the Section 8A championship match as Park Rapids sent two doubles teams to state for the first time in school history.
With the graduation of Lawrence and Klingenberg, Kading (a senior) and Carlson (a junior) teamed up to take over the No. 1 doubles spot for the Panthers this fall. That duo had no problem clicking as doubles partners as Kading and Carlson will carry a 20-4 season record as doubles partners into their second state tournament.
"I was a little concerned about how the two would play together," said Brandt, who completed her third season as the Panthers' head coach. "However, I knew that both were gifted tennis players and would make the switch just fine."
"We set a goal at the beginning of the year to go back to state," said Kading. "It feels awesome."
"We knew we had the potential to go back," said Carlson. "We knew we had some tough competition, but if we played our game I knew we'd prevail. I'm happy to get back there."
Kading and Carlson will join Megan Luther as the only tennis players in Park Rapids history to compete in two state tournaments in doubles. Luther qualified with Anna Pederson in 1999 and Abbie McMorrow in 2001. The other Park Rapids state qualifiers in doubles are Tanya Peterson and Jennifer Pederson in 1991 and Lindsey Czeczok and Amy Luther in 2005.
The Park Rapids pair will open the state tournament Thursday morning at 10 by facing Minnewaska seniors Laura Paulson and Sarah Faehnrich at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis. Win or lose, the Park Rapids pair will play again at 2 p.m. in this double-elimination tournament.
Kading, Carlson click early
Kading and Carlson didn't have a problem clicking as doubles partners.
Entering the section individual tournament, that No. 1 doubles team had a 9-0 record against section opponents and a 16-3 overall record. The Park Rapids pair's only losses were to Bemidji's Jessica Solberg and Mackenzie Schultz in three sets and Pequot Lakes' Kirstie Harmdierks and Cori Lundmark twice (including a three-set loss). Harmdierks and Lundmark also qualified for the state tournament last season.
Kading and Carlson entered the Section 8A meet as the No. 1 seed and used three straight-set wins to reach the title match.
In the first round on Oct. 16 at Grand Forks, Kading and Carlson eliminated Perham's Suzanne Coleman and Hannah Brenk (the No. 16 seed) 6-2, 6-1.
A 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 9 Bailey Mankie and Lilly Mankie of East Grand Forks in the quarterfinals and a 6-1, 6-0 victory over No. 5 Zoe Pietras-Swanton and Katie Rook of Thief River Falls in the semifinals on Oct. 17 sent Kading and Carlson to the section title match.
"We played really well against Thief River Falls," said Kading. "That was our best match of the year."
"They played well during the section tournament. I was very excited to have them at the No. 1 seed. I felt that they really worked hard for that spot," said Brandt. "They played some of their best tennis against the doubles team from Thief River Falls. Both Mary and Alyssa had great shots and put the ball exactly where it needed to go. It was a great match to watch."
Crookston's Sarah Derosier and Hayley Myrold, the No. 2 seed, denied Kading and Carlson the section title with a 6-4, 6-2 win. When Lariviere and Proulx defeated Pietras-Swanton and Rook in the third-place match, a true-second match was needed to determine the other state qualifier.
True-second match needed
After losing in the section final, Kading and Carlson had to wait three days to play for a state berth.
That wait gave the Park Rapids pair a chance to regroup from only their fourth loss of the season.
"(Having to wait) was a good thing," said Kading. "They were coming off a win and we were coming off a loss. We were on a level playing field."
"We were disappointed, but we had time to regain our focus for the true-second match," said Carlson.
"They had played the Crookston doubles team earlier in the season and they won (6-4, 6-2)," said Brandt. "I felt that they would be able to do that again."
The true-second match opened with all four players failing to hold their serve. Carlson held her serve to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead and held on her next serve to close out the first set.
Park Rapids jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second set before Crookston won the next two games. The Panthers had a chance to close out the match with a 5-4 lead, but the Crookston pair broke. At 5-5, the Panthers broke back and Carlson held serve to give Park Rapids a doubles team at sate for the second year in a row.
"I knew that the girls would be able to regroup and pull off a win," said Brandt. "They are good athletes and they know how to focus to prepare for the next match. I didn't expect it to be as close as it was. I think that nerves played into that a little bit and I also feel that the Crookston doubles team improved since the last time we saw them."
"It was very stressful. They had improved from the last time we played them," said Kading. "I expected a tight match, but I knew we could beat them."
"We had beat them before and I expected us to come out on top," said Carlson. "It was a close match. After we won, it was a feeling of relief knowing that we were going back to state."
One more goal to fulfill
Kading and Carlson are hoping to use last year's experience at the state tournament to produce better results this year.
Kading and Lawrence met the eventual champions in the first round and ended up losing both of their matches to finish with a 22-4 record as doubles partners last season. Carlson and Klingenberg also lost both of their matches to end with a 23-5 record as doubles partners.
The Park Rapids duo received a favorable match-up by drawing Paulson and Faehnrich in the first round. Carlson and Klingenberg played Paulson and Alicia Pfeninger in the consolation bracket last season, losing 6-3, 6-2.
Kading and Carlson are hoping to cap off the season by winning at least one match to join Megan Luther and Anna Pederson as the only doubles team to taste victory at the state tournament.
"This is my last state tournament, so I'm going to have a good time and enjoy it," said Kading.
"I'm hoping we're the second doubles team to win a match at state," said Carlson. "If we play well, we have a good chance to win our first match."
"We have a nice first draw," said Brandt. "I think that if Mary and Alyssa come with their best game and can keep their nerves under control, they will do great."