The 2010 high school tennis season came upon Minnetonka's Jessa Richards much more swiftly then she expected.

Then a junior and securely among the top dozen singles players in the state, Richards was taken out of her cozy No. 2 singles position and shoved into the glare of the top singles spot when two-time defending state champion Aria Lambert chose to forego her senior season to focus on her future as a college player.

Richards, a USTA junior tournament veteran, adapted well, becoming a fixture among the top five in the metro rankings and advancing to the singles quarterfinals in the Class 2A tournament.

Staff writer Jim Paulsen talked with Richards about her unexpected promotion and how important that experience was for this season.

Q With everything that happened last year, you must be pretty excited for the upcoming season.

A I think this season will turn out really good. I'm excited to finally get started this year.

Q Did last year take you by surprise?

A Yes. I was a little surprised by how everything worked out. I wasn't thinking I was going to play No. 1 [singles], but I did OK. I knew that my competition would be better, but I think I did pretty well.

Q Minnetonka has become kind of a fixture at the state tournament recently. The team has made it to the semifinal in back-to-back seasons. How will that help this season?

A I think we've been to the state tournament four years in a row, so we're used to having a pretty good team. I think we obviously want to do just as well or better. We lost a lot of girls who were seniors, but we've got a lot of younger girls coming up. This will be a completely different team.

Q How much has your game improved from 2010?

A I've been practicing really hard and putting in a lot of work. I think I'm more mentally stable. I'm an emotional person and I take losses pretty hard. I've been trying to not get too happy if I win or too sad if I lose.

Q You play tennis year-round. How important is the high school season to you?

A Well, I'm a captain this year and I'm still playing my sport, so it's really important. I'm learning how to work with a bunch of people and get them to work together to win as a team. I really like that feeling of winning as a team.

Q What's the biggest difference between high school and USTA tennis?

A The biggest difference is that you're playing with a lot of girls your age from your school. Some of them aren't at your level, but you're all working together. USTA is fun, too, but it's more about the individual. You're thinking a lot more about yourself.

Q What makes team tennis fun?

A It's fun when you can get out and play and have other girls cheering for you. It boosts your confidence and gets you a little more pumped up. And it's fun to go do the same thing for them.

Q Edina has been the standard-bearer in tennis for a long time. I think they've won 14 straight championships. You play in the Lake Conference with them. What is it going to take to beat them?

A I think it just depends on the day and who is playing their best. They always have a really strong team, but I don't think it's anything we can't handle. We would have to play our best [to beat them]. I would love that, obviously.

JIM PAULSEN