The Dickinson High girls tennis team hit the courts for practice on Monday just a week before their season opener.
After the players got loose with a few practice swings and before working backhand, forehand and volley shots near the net, Midgets head coach Lia Bradley preached for consistency in their technique.
While it's too early to tell whether the Midgets will threaten for their first team state tournament appearance since 2015, Bradley is approaching the season with optimism and a "one match at a time" mentality.
"I think that just from seeing the girls these last few days, they are looking as good as they did last year," Bradley said. "It's early in the season to tell, but at least we know that we are as good as last year. The younger ones, they've never had varsity experience, but they're quite strong so I'm just excited to see the combination of the returners and the youth. I couldn't say right now what's the possibility of state because it's too early, but I know we are going to compete against every team and we have a chance to win some games."
After a year where the roster only had two seniors, the Midgets' 2018 campaign will feature only one. Senior and team captain Marcail Allerdings, who was slotted in the team's No. 4 spot last season, finished with an impressive 9-2 record in singles competition.
Targeting her play at the net as a place where she intends improving, Allerdings understands she'll have to raise her level of play following a successful junior season.
"It does give me confidence, but on the other side of it too, coming back, those other teams might see me as kind of a threat and say, 'Marcail beat us last year so let's see what we do to beat her this year,'" Allerdings said. "It does give me a lot of confidence knowing that I did it last year, but also this year I know that I need to step up my game a little bit more so I can continue with that record and hopefully have as great a season, if not better, for my last year."
Dickinson will host Baker High (S.D.) on Saturday, April 14 from West River Community Center. While Bradley says the team's lineup will be determined shortly before the season opener, juniors Lauren Jorda and Haile Karlen are projected to be the team's top two players in singles competition and the top pair in doubles competition.
"We just need to communicate and move our feet a lot to make sure we have the whole court covered and make sure [the competition] doesn't beat us," Karlen said of doubles strategy.
Jorda is returning to the court after missing the entire 2017 season with a torn labrum. A state qualifier in singles in 2015 and in doubles in 2016, Jorda is eager to return and face competition.
"It's completely healed now," Jorda said. "It happened almost exactly a year ago, I feel like I don't notice it anymore. I don't have any expectations, but I am so happy to be back."
The rest of the roster is a mixture of experience and youth. Junior Alexa Cofer is another returner while freshman Emma Dazell will make the jump up from junior varsity. Meanwhile, according to Bradley, Malayna Shneider will be the first seventh-grader in program history to compete at the varsity level.
In the Western Dakota Association preseason coaches poll, Dickinson is ranked eighth out of nine teams. Minot, the defending region champion that earned a third-place state team finish, topped the poll with seven first place votes.
"Our conference is very strong. Dickinson is very small compared to the bigger cities," Bradley said. "They have long-round programs and we are kind of just building our program here, but I think we are probably look as strong, if not stronger than last year. I have big hopes for our team to do well."