FAIRMONT - Fairmont head coach Eric Johnson, his Cardinal netters and the team's volunteer assistants utilized a new form of strength training during the first couple days of practice last week - scooping snow off of the Cardinal Courts in Fairmont.
While clearing hitting space proved a necessary and unique bonding experience, the recent near freezing temperatures and icy winds unfortunately have limited the Cardinals' preseason practice time.
"We haven't had any challenge matches yet (through Monday), so it's difficult to know where everyone fits into the lineup," said Eric Johnson, whose team opens the season by traveling to New Ulm on Friday for a 4:30 p.m. South Central Conference dual meet. "I should have a better idea after our scrimmage at Mankato West (Tuesday).
ACES RETURN — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal tennis lineup opening the season at New Ulm on Friday include, front row (l-r): Connor Madsen, Ben Hernes, Shawn Busche, Tyler Head, Austin Becker and Andy Hagen. Middle row: Sterlin Johnson, Grant Becker, James Viesselman, Jacob Kallenbach and Tony Joseph. Back row: Andrew Johnson, Mitchel Anderton, Ryan Busche and Carter Klanderud. Not pictured: Kellen Rodriguez and Calvin King. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"Grant (Becker), J.T. (Viesselman), Andrew (Johnson) and Ryan (Busche) clearly have the most varsity experience coming back for us, so they'll be contending for our singles spots. After that, I really don't know."
Becker and Viesselman, the roster's only two seniors, will serve as the Cardinals' co-captains this season after generating numerous victories during their outstanding prep careers on the court.
Becker, who also served as a co-captain last spring, earned a gold medal at fourth singles during the 2012 SCC Meet before combining with graduated standout Shawn Patterson to generate a first-round doubles victory during last spring's Section 2A Individual Meet.
Viesselman displayed his mettle by teaming with Joe Washa to net a first-round sectional doubles victory a year ago.
Junior Andrew Johnson and sophomore Ryan Busche primarily played in the doubles court last spring, but may make the transition to singles action this season.
Eric Johnson also anticipates sophomores Sterlin Johnson and Mitch Anderton, freshmen Jake Kallenbach and Austin Becker, along with eighth-grader Tyler Head, competing for playing time at the varsity level in 2013.
"Both Tyler and Sterlin played some varsity for us last year, while Austin, Jake and Mitch also will be in the mix," Eric Johnson said.
Junior Calvin King; the eighth-grade trio of Tony Joseph, Andy Hagen and Shawn Busche; and seventh-graders Carter Klanderud, Connor Madsen, Ben Hernes and Kellen Rodriguez will round out Fairmont's youthful roster.
"A lot of our players haven't played at the varsity level, so one of our points of emphasis in practice has been footwork," Eric Johnson said. "Our kids have responded well at practice so far and are ready to take the next step.
"Establishing solid footwork and decision-making during actual matches will help us build a fundamentally-sound team, and that will take some time."
Although Eric Johnson does not have an official varsity assistant coach, current Fairmont prep tennis players Aubrey Green, Andrea Carstensen and Missy Viesselman are contributing their knowledge of the game and hitting skills as volunteers.
"They (Green, Carstensen and Viesselman) bring a whole new element to our practices," Eric Johnson said.