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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

DCHS tennis looks to mold young squad

By Eric Killelea

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Dawson County High School tennis program has long produced winning teams.

Heading into his 47th year, head coach Rich Lindgren has earned 24 Montana Class A championships and more recently led the past three teams to place among the top five best statewide. Last season, the boys took second at state, while the girls finished fifth.

As the new season begins, Lindgren considers the 12 athletes lost to graduation, but reflects only for a moment and quickly turns his focus on the immediate need to mold his current team that has all the talent needed to compete against the toughest opposition.

“We are young, but we are really excited about the enthusiasm and how we’ve improved in less than three short weeks of practice,” Lindgren said Thursday. “We’re rebuilding. But it’s up to the kids. If they’re motivated, I believe they can get to the top five spot once again.”

The Red Devils started practicing March 13. The coldfront and snow that hit Glendive drove the team into the DCHS gymnasium, before warmer weather allowed them to swing their rackets on the courts at Jaycee West Park. As many as 42 players have since been challenging one another to vie for 20 openings on varsity. Lindgren sets up such matches in which freshman can face-off against seniors for the chance to start as one of four singles players or as part of three doubles teams for either the boys or girls.

The girls return a lineup of five seniors, including Ceeara Staiger who placed third at state alongside doubles partner Marenah Crockett, who gradauted last year. Losing her doubles partner means the two-time All-State player starts the season in singles competition. 

“Ceeara is a powerful ground stroker,” said Lindgren, who explained that she has the ability to score with both forehand and backhand shots. “She has lots of power and topspin. She’s also very strong at the net.” 

Katrielle Carney, Hannah Bogar and Abby Hill, who also have Class A Divisional experience, are also back on the court. “We will be counting heavily on their expertise as well,” Lindgren added.

The boys return seven seniors, including Jory Opp, who placed second at State in doubles with Josh Hoffer, who graduated last spring. Again, losing the doubles partner means another transition to singles competition. 

“Jory last played singles consistently as a freshman,” Lindgren said. “The difference in strategy between singles and doubles is completely different. But he’s a steady player on the court and good at volleys overhead.” 

Also back is Michael Hopfauf, a state qualifier in singles, who is a “strong, left-handed player with the ability to cover the entire court,” Lindgren added.

This season, Lindgren is joined by assistant coaches Todd Opp, Tami Staiger, Lisa Kelly, and Bret Vester - all former Red Devils. On Saturday, the coaches and players are scheduled to travel east to the Magic City and play in the season’s first tournament against Billings Senior and Skyview, two Class AA teams. “Our focus is to develop the team’s game, smooth out our ground strokes, increase our accuracies on serves and simplify our volleys,” Lindgren said. “We’re working on the basics. We want to grow.” 

Looking ahead, Lindgren identifies Billings Central and Hardin as the teams to beat in Eastern A, and, with State on the mind, he points out that some of the strongest teams statewide are in Dillon, Hamilton and Polson.

Reach Eric Killelea at rrsports@rangerreview.com

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