Swinging for state: Hi-Liners hope to make most of regional tournament

Valley City High School senior Kierstin Lorenz has come as close as you can get to the state girls tennis tournament.
Each of the last two years, she’s lost in a state qualifying match at the Eastern Dakota Conference regional tournament.
“Heartbreakers,” she said.
This year, she isn’t approaching the EDC tournament any differently. Same routine, same goal — getting one more trip to Fargo for the state tournament.
The EDC tournament starts at 10 a.m. Thursday in Grand Forks with the team tournament. The No. 7 Hi-Liners take on No. 2 West Fargo. The double elimination bracket will take four teams to the state tournament.
The Hi-Liners will then have a chance to make state Friday and Saturday at the individual tournament.
For Lorenz, who has been the top singles player on the team all season, the best shot will likely come from her doubles play with freshman Clarissa Olson.
In addition to strong singles seasons, the duo has teamed all season long at No. 1 doubles and held their own with some of the EDC’s best.
In the EDC tournament, they’ll be teamed together playing doubles.
“These two have the potential to do something special in the individual tournament,” Valley City coach Matt Nielson said. “They both have the skills.”
On the court, the two have developed a chemistry based off their playing styles.
Generally, it’s Olson covering the net with aggressive play up front.
“Clarissa’s a monster at the net and she’s really tall, so nothing gets by her, which makes it really easy for me,” Lorenz said.
It leaves Lorenz in the back to play a more
“Kierstin’s more consistent in back than I am,” Olson said. “When I’m up and she’s back, it works really well.”
Despite the age difference, both play leadership roles on the team, Nielson said.
Lorenz has been a mainstay on the team since her eighth grade year and continued to grow.
“She’s been a great leader and a great captain for us,” Nielson said. “This is one of most coachable teams I’ve had and one of the most fun teams I’ve had and most ethical teams I’ve had. A coach can try to cultivate those things but unless they have their team’s leaders on board, like Kierstin, it wouldn’t matter.
“Without Kierstin we wouldn’t have the culture we have on our team.”
In Olson’s case, it’s a matter of leading by example. Olson is frequently having fun, but also has a competitive mentality that has led to success in multiple varsity sports as a freshman.
“She’s so fierce and competitive,” Nielson said. “She wants to win the next point, can see what’s going on and can adjust her game without a coach. She’s just that savvy. She knows sports, knows how to win and has brought that attitude and some of the girls are catching on.”
In addition to the top doubles team, the Hi-Liners also hope to have success from numerous other players.
Kristin Nelson, the team’s only other senior, will have a shot at singles competition in the individual tournament.
“She’s getting it and she deserves it,” Nielson said. “That will be a great experience for her.”
She’ll be joined in singles competition individually by Sam Coit and Sara Gilbertson.
In doubles, Maia Wendel, an 8th grader with only two matches of varsity experience late in the year, will likely play a match in the team tournament and could also see play during the individual tournament.
“It’s nice to see an 8th grader who has such huge drive and motiviation and is very coachable,” Nielson said. “You tell her to do something on the court and it’s done.”
For the team tournament, Nielson said he has three lineups prepared.
One for the opening match against West Fargo, and one for both Fargo South and Fargo North, one of which will play Valley City in the second round.
Nielson said that the odds are against his team, even if it held its own with some of EDC’s top competition during the regular season.
“We were one match from being the No. 4 seed (Fargo Davies) and that felt good, but West Fargo’s really tough,” he said. “We’re going to give them our all and just do the best we can.”
The strategy changes from the regular season in that the team tournament’s 3-2 format limits players to singles or doubles. Players such Olson, who would help win two matches during the regular season are limited to one or the other.
Nielson said he expects his doubles teams to hold their own, so he expects the team tournament to be decided in singles play.
“As a seven seed, we’re going to be the underdogs and if we’re able to pull off even one victory, it’s going to be a pretty big deal for us,” he said. “If we can pull off a state berth, that would be absolutely amazing.”