Rosemount junior Virginia Norder has played varsity tennis for the Irish since she was in seventh grade. Photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii • firstname.lastname@example.org
There's one element of the girls' tennis state tournament that you can't get on any other court.
"It's the energy," Rosemount's Virginia Norder said.
Norder, a three-time state qualifier, has harnessed that energy and injected it into a program seeking to establish itself among the state's best. Norder, along with fellow junior Alison Baker, have been playing varsity tennis since they were seventh-graders. They both attend camps, clinics and play in tournaments throughout the year.
Their growth, improvement and enthusiasm have been contagious. Coach Dana Beck has seen it trickle down the lineup and into the rest of the girls.
"They all want to play in the offseason too because they know the other girls are doing it," said Beck, in her 12th season as head coach. "That really jump-started everybody. You have to get everyone playing in the offseason to really improve and be one of the top-ranked teams. It just has to happen."
For the past few seasons, the Irish have been doing just that. Rosemount made it to the Class 2A state tournament semifinals last fall and also made the trip in 2009.
Norder, a court strategist with an above-average forehand and solid all-around game, has relished her state experience as an individual. But there's nothing quite like qualifying as a team, which the Irish have done in two of the past three years.
"Going to state as an individual is an amazing experience, knowing you've worked hard to get to that point for yourself. But going with the team, it's really great," Norder said. "Tennis is often such an individual sport, so to actually be able to go to a tennis event with the team is pretty rare. It's a totally different environment."
The Irish are trying to recreate that environment this season with a team inching near the top state's top 10, but alongside fellow conference powers Prior Lake, Eagan and Lakeville North .
It won't be an easy feat, but they're certainly off to a good start.
The girls beat both Buffalo and Monticello as part of an overnight trip. They swept the field at the Hastings tournament Aug. 24 and have begun conference play in the win column as well.
Norder and Baker have solidified themselves as the team's No. 1 and No. 2 players, giving Rosemount a consistent edge on its opponents. Beck already has noticed significant improvement in both players.
"They've put the game of tennis on the front burner for them," Beck said. "That's their main focus. It shows."
But teams don't qualify for the state tournament without depth. Beck, while confident early on in the season, knows work needs to be done if her squad is going to make another late-season push.
The Irish weren't favored to represent their section at the state tournament last year, but they made it happen by upsetting two of the top seeds. They're hoping to build that momentum with higher expectations.
"We were all kind of surprised and excited that we had made it that far," Norder added. "Now we're coming into our own. We've set the bar high."