Sep. 1—GRAND FORKS — The power in North Dakota boys state tennis has swung back and forth between the Grand Forks schools in recent years.
Grand Forks Central won back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021. Last season, Grand Forks Red River went 16-0 and claimed its first team title since 2016.
This year, the power may belong to both.
The Knights and Roughriders are both expected to be among the state’s top teams as they head into the season.
“It’s great for the tennis community,” Red River coach Josh Lunak said. “It’s great to see both programs doing really well. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
The two teams have some of the state’s most accomplished players at the top of their lineups.
Red River has senior Espen Schneider, the 2021 state doubles champion and 2022 singles runner-up, at No. 1. Senior Kellen Johnson, who finished sixth in state singles last season, will be No. 2.
“It’s nice to return your top two players,” Lunak said. “They’re two of the best players in the state, so it’s nice to have that at the top. But it’s been a lot of fun to see the kids battling and competing for those last few spots. There’s been a few guys that have been patiently waiting for their turn and opportunity, and they’re going to get a crack.”
Central has senior Evan Panzer and junior Cole Wilber at the top two spots. Panzer and Wilber teamed together last season to win state doubles.
“Having them back is great,” Central coach Max Weisser said. “They’re both such great leaders, too. Not only do they allow us to have success, they really make sure practices run smooth. They lead the right way.”
The Knights have nearly their entire varsity roster returning from last season’s 8-5 squad. Others include senior Hanson Du, junior Gunner Spicer, sophomore Westin Nielsen, sophomore Jason Ling, sophomore Logan Nielsen and freshman Rylan Spicer.
“I’m definitely excited with all the returners we have,” Weisser said. “They bring a lot of experience playing varsity matches. The biggest thing with our kids is most have gotten bigger since last year, which can only help them. I think we should be poised to have a pretty good year.”
Some of Red River’s key returners include junior Asher Green, who finished third in state doubles last season, senior Jadon Tang and sophomore Julian Mallory.
In individual play, Schneider will be a contender for the state singles title.
“Espen has been looking really good,” Lunak said. “His game has gotten a lot stronger. Credit that to playing varsity hockey last year. I think it has really helped his tennis game. He can read the ball. He gets to a lot of balls. He’s a counter-puncher.”
Weisser said he’s not sure if Panzer and Wilber will attempt to win a second-straight doubles title or if they’ll try singles this year.
“The guys get to pick,” Weisser said. “We’ll see how the year goes.”
Senior Emma Farder moved into the No. 1 singles spot for the East Grand Forks Senior High girls team last year and has regained the top spot in the lineup early this fall.
“She put in a lot of time during the offseason,” Green Wave coach Kyle Hanson said. “She has definitely upped her game in singles. She looks very strong at that spot. She’s had a great start to her season and is playing extremely well.”
Farder went 12-2 in singles last season and is 5-0 to start this season. She’s 6-2 in doubles.
“She’s so consistent and has really been able to angle shots off the court when she wants,” Hanson said. “She’s extremely athletic and can get to the net. Her footwork, along with Erin Bowman’s, is so good. Hopefully that translates to the other girls picking up on it and watching how those two move.”
Hanson said Farder and Bowman may play doubles in the postseason individual tournament.
Senior High’s No. 2 singles player, Ruby Leach, is 11-2 in singles this season.
Coach: Max Weisser.
Key returners: Sr. Evan Panzer (state doubles champion), jr. Cole Wilber (state doubles champion), jr. Gunner Spicer, fr. Rylan Spicer, soph. Westin Nielsen, soph. Jason Ling, sr. Hanson Du, soph. Logan Nielsen.
Coach Weisser says: “I’m definitely excited with all the returners we have. They bring a lot of experience playing varsity matches. The biggest thing with our kids is most have gotten bigger since last year, which can only help them. I just think we should be poised to have a pretty good year.”
Coach: Josh Lunak.
Record/finish: 16-0, East Region champs, state champions.
Key returners: Sr. Espen Schneider (state singles runner-up, 2021 state doubles champion), sr. Kellen Johnson (state singles sixth place), jr. Asher Green (state doubles third place), soph. Julian Mallory, sr. Jadon Tang.
Top newcomers: Sr. Kyedehl Hultberg, eighth-grader Aodh Murphy, jr. Rylan Bydal, sr. Grant Gardner.
Coach Lunak says: “It’s nice to return your top two players. They’re two of the best players in the state, so it’s nice to have that at the top. But it’s been a lot of fun to see the kids battling and competing for those last few spots. There’s been a few guys that have been patiently waiting for their turn and opportunity, and they’re going to get a crack.”
Coach: Kyle Hanson.
Key returners: Soph. Ruby Leach (20 singles wins), sr. Emma Farder (12 singles wins), jr. Karlee Walsh (12 doubles wins, 9 singles), sr. Kate Cantera (16 doubles wins), sr. Maddie Petrovich (15 doubles wins, injured), sr. Erin Bowman, sr. Emma Abbey, sr. Kaitlin Polley, sr. Sam Zimmerman.
Top newcomers: Soph. Morgan McDonald, fr. Chloe Svendsen.
Coach Hanson says: “We do return a lot of experience. We have a lot of seniors. I think we’re going to have a very good season. We definitely have a chance to beat anyone in the section. At the same time, this is a very, very tough section and we could certainly lose to anyone, too. We definitely have some of that top-end talent that is a little above some teams. That’s always huge when you can trot out two girls and consistently get a win from those top two spots. It’s going to be a little bit of finding what works best for the other girls, because we are going to make changes from last year. Some girls who played more doubles last year are going to play more singles this year.”