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One last hurrah: DHS seniors, head coach eye state as final chance to end careers on high note

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A year ago, senior Lindsey Bakken was the only member of the Dickinson High girls tennis team preparing for the state tournament by practicing at the West River Community Center against assistant coach Kendra Pasco.

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On Monday, Bakken wasn’t the only member of the Dickinson High girls tennis team practicing at the DHS tennis courts.

The entire team was preparing the for the North Dakota state tennis tournament, which begins 1 p.m. Thursday in Bismarck.

“It’s nice having everybody here,” Bakken said as she looked on at practice. “It got a little lonely last year.

“We are all so happy, it’s almost tough to be serious.”

Dickinson placed fourth as a team during the West Region Tournament and claimed a spot at the state tournament. The Midgets will play the No. 1 seed from the East Region and 12-time defending state champions Grand Forks Red River.

The Midgets defeated Williston 3-2 in the state-qualifying match on Thursday. Dickinson junior Kayla Wallace collected a win over Caitlyn Hunter 6-2 and 7-5 to win the match against the Coyotes.

“We probably played three of the best matches we played all year on Thursday,” Dickinson head coach James Kramer said. “The girls played extremely hard. It was a long-grueling day.”

Dickinson’s goal to reach the state tournament started long before the 2014 season began. During their winter meeting, the Midgets wrote down that specific goal for this season. They also received news Kramer would step down as the head coach at the end of the 2014 season.

“They put the team first before a lot of their individual goals,” said Kramer, who spent the three years as the Midgets’ head coach. “That was the first step and lead right into that preseason meeting, right into practices and right into that first match against Bismarck St. Mary’s.”

If making the state tournament wasn’t pressing enough for the seniors, Dickinson wanted Kramer to end his head coaching tenure on a high note.

“It made it more urgent that we qualify and make him proud,” Dickinson senior Mariah Jorda said. “That was really important to us.”

Three short years ago

In 2012, Kramer took over the Midgets’ head coaching program. It marked his second stint as the girls tennis head coach. He also coached the Dickinson High boys and girls tennis teams in the early 90s. Kramer played tennis at Dickinson and then for Dickinson State in the 80s.

When he started his second stint as the head coach, Kramer had three seniors and a handful of underclassman.

“To see what the girls did from three years ago until now is absolutely unbelievable,” Kramer said. “It’s on the girls. It’s not on the coaches. They play and buy in to what you teach. They put in the work during the office season.”

The Midgets won one West Region dual during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Dickinson ended the 2014 regular season with a 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the West Region.

Dickinson senior McKenna Love said having the same coach for the last three years has helped every player grow.

“He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had,” she said. “He’s so serious about winning and he connects with our team. He personally tells us what we are doing right. He’s a big part on why we went to state.”

Bakken couldn’t imagine anyone else being the team’s head coach for the last three years. During the 2013 season, Kramer was named West Region coach of the year.

“It’s really nice to have that consistency in a head coach and he’s so much fun,” Bakken said. “I’m really glad he’s not leaving before we leave, because I don’t know what I would do if I had another coach.”

Going to state

In addition to the Midgets competing as a team, the doubles team of junior Kayla Wallace and sophomore Ireland Jung have the No. 8 seed entering the state tournament. Wallace and Jung play Maddie Anderson and Alexis Caoili of Red River in the opening round.

As a team, the Midgets’ first-round opponent couldn’t be any tougher.

Dickinson plays the 12-time defending state champions Roughriders. In those 12 years, Red River has also been the singles and doubles champions 10 times.

“We are lined up against a team that has absolutely dominated girls tennis in North Dakota for 12 years,” Kramer said. “We are playing an icon in the history of North Dakota girls tennis. We have our challenge in front of us. All I can ask the girls to do is line up and give me everything they got, 100 percent. I know that will happen.”

Regardless if the team places at the state tournament, Jorda said the team is going to pleased with its accomplishments.

“I’m definitely proud of our team and everything we’ve done,” Jorda said.

With the season winding down, the state tournament marks the final time the seniors will step foot on the tennis court. Bakken has tried not to think about it.

“I’ve been playing since I was five and I can’t imagine not having a purpose of playing tennis,” she said. “I’m going to miss it a ton. I’m hoping that I can play with them during the summer even though I’m not on the team anymore.

“I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else except for my teammates.”

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