The River Falls girls’ tennis team may not have had any players at last week’s WIAA State Tournament, but that doesn’t diminish the success the team had this season.
The Wildcats posted a dual meet record of 13-6, the second most wins in program history, and had their highest finish in the Big Rivers Conference in decades with a third place showing behind just perennial BRC powerhouses Eau Claire Memorial and Hudson.
It’s all pretty impressive considering the most wins the Wildcats have had in the 21st century is five, and this year’s senior class had just nine total wins in the previous three years.
Even though the Wildcats didn’t get any players through the WIAA subsectional, head coach Chad Forde said it was a season the girls can be proud of.
“If we were told we would have 13 wins at the beginning of the year, with a harder schedule than years past, we would be ecstatic,” he said. “While the season ended in a funky way, I am still extremely proud of what the girls have done this season.”
Forde said one of the Wildcat’s goals this season was to finish in the top three in the BRC for the first time in 15 years, and after losing to just Eau Claire Memorial and Hudson during the regular season, were in a position to achieve that goal going into the BRC Tournament.
“To be honest the reflection on how the conference tournament went for the team, it was a mix of emotions,” Forde said. “We played insanely well in our first two rounds and we played extremely well against Hudson.”
The Cat’s No. 3 doubles team of Olivia Bell and Andreea Ghenciu were able to pull off the upset of the tournament against Hudson, winning an exciting third-set tiebreaker to make it to the championship match against Eau Claire Memorial.
“While they could not pull off the win against Memorial in the championship, they had a very close match where they were much more competitive with them than when they played last,” Forde said. “The Hudson coaches, and even the players, were commenting about how we were a completely different team this time around.”
Like the BRC Tournament, Bell and Ghenciu advanced to the second round of the subsectional before once again losing a close match to Memorial.
“However they have made great strides to be big leaders on our team next year,” Forde noted.
Forde said another encouraging sign came in the Wildcat’s final regular season match of the year against Park Cottage Grove Sept. 30. The Cats had a chance to tie the school record of 14 wins in a season set in 1993, and even though they lost 5-2, he was impressed with how they handled themselves that day.
“That was one of the funkier matches I have ever coached,” he said. “Two minutes before the match began we pulled one of our varsity girls due to injury concerns. This made us really have to shift our lineup around and put people in unique spots they may not have been used to, or ready for.”
To complicate matters the Cats had sent half their JV team to compete in Hastings, leaving them even more shorthanded. In stepped sophomore Emma Creen to join Ghenciu at No. 3 doubles. And while they didn’t win the match, Forde said it was a good sign for the future.
“I commend Emma for being a team player and giving it her all because that was an extremely tough situation going from middle/upper JV all the way up to her first varsity match and being told this was going to happen one minute before the match was going to begin,” Forde said. “And I was really proud of Andreea for stepping up instead of being overly frustrated with the situation and being a leader and mentor for Emma in that moment. I really think it was a good learning experience for both of them.”
Forde said he was thankful for the leadership of the team’s six seniors-- Lindsey Myhre, Heidi Marg, Katie Swanson, Molly O’Malley, Grace Wachtler, and Ali Schretenthaler-- during the Cat’s resurgent 2019 season.
“They have truly raised the bar for the program,” he said. “And they all have extremely bright futures as amazing young women in their next endeavors.”