On paper, a No. 2 seed should defeat a No. 7 seed. Unfortunately for Woodbury girls’ tennis last fall, its appearance in the Class 2A, Section 4 tournament didn’t turn out that way. No. 2-seeded Woodbury lost 4-3 to White Bear Lake in the quarterfinals.
Things aren’t always as they appear on paper, of course. Woodbury coach Brandon Heath knew it wasn’t going to be an easy matchup.
“It was a tough loss,” he said. “I really think it pushed a lot of the girls to work that much harder, and really use it as motivation for this year.”
Woodbury finished last season 17-3 overall and 7-1 in the Suburban East Conference, under Heath’s first year as coach. It was a significant turnaround from the previous year, when the team ended up around the .500 mark.
The Royals finished as conference runners-up to Mounds View, a team with eight consecutive trips to the state tournament. The two squads came into their final conference match against each other with 7-0 conference records. Woodbury lost the head-to-head meeting, 6-1.
Becoming conference champions is one of Woodbury’s goals with the fall sports season set to begin later this month. Junior Mackenzie Schurhamer, a No. 1 singles player, thinks the Royals have a good shot.
“You could probably beat some teams that you didn’t think you could,” Schurhamer said. “If we believe we could do it, we probably could do it.”
Woodbury also has its sights on other things, like defeating town rival East Ridge. The next logical steps would be making it to the section finals and then the state tournament. Woodbury has had some solid teams, but it’s just a matter of getting over that hump, Heath said.
“We definitely did a lot better than the other years,” Schurhamer said. “I think that’s mostly because of Brandon, because he’s such a good coach.
“He knows how we’re supposed to play and what we need to do to win.”
One of the big things Heath brought to his new team was “just getting the girls to expect to win every time they go on the court,” he said.
For example, when he coaches his players mid-match, he’s not just focused on shot placement or technique. He tells his players to smile and have fun.
“I want to have as much of a light-spirited atmosphere as we can,” he said. “I know when we’re having fun and we’re loose, we’re playing our best.
“If we’re not having fun, it’s going to show out there.”
Doubles player Jenica Monkman enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere on the court, because it kept the pressure off. The junior said she didn’t feel like she had to play her best tennis every practice but just work on things and get better.
“I had a lot of fun last season,” Monkman said.
This year’s team should have a good mix of younger players and experienced veterans. It only lost one player to graduation and should have a large junior class this year.
“We’ll have a very strong, deep, returning team,” Heath said. “We should be in just as good of shape, if not better shape.”
With that motivation from their season-ending loss, many of the players have worked hard in the offseason, playing winter tennis and practicing drills earlier this summer.
Things could look a little different come tournament time, as Woodbury was moved to Section 3 this season. Eagan will likely be section favorites, according to Heath, but Woodbury will go in fighting.
“I’m confident that we’re going to take another step forward,” Heath said.
No matter what happens, they can count on one thing: Smiles.