By Jim Rueda
---- — MANKATO — Mankato West senior Andrea Erdman is excited about the girls tennis season, with good reason.
She's the top player on a team coming off the best season in program history. The Scarlets were 17-4 last fall and finished third in the Big Nine Conference with an 8-2 record.
This will be Erdman's third straight season at the No. 1 singles position. That experience alone should make her a formidable opponent.
"It's hard to play No. 1 singles in the Big Nine, but Andrea is up for it," West head coach Adam Doll said. "She's gotten better every year and has developed into a very good leader for us."
Erdman has some simple goals for her final year of high school tennis. She'd like to be competitive in every match, improve every day and help the team reach its potential.
"You're always looking to improve," she said. "That's why you put in the hours at the (summer United States Tennis Association) program and go to Gustavus (indoor courts during the winter). There are always new things to learn."
Erdman said fans might not notice improvement in her strokes but should see a big uptick in how she uses those strokes. Court strategy was one of her main focuses during the offseason.
"I know my mental game is better," she said. "The mental side is a big part of tennis. Knowing when and where to hit shots, when to move up and when to stay back, all those things play a big part in your success."
Erdman realizes it will be difficult to put together the kind of season the Scarlets had a year ago but said that's exactly what they should be striving for.
"If we all just go out and do our best in practices and play our best in matches, the wins and losses will take care of themselves," she said. "I don't know if we want to stress winning that much as we do getting better — getting better as individuals and getting better as a team."
The good news is West returns five senior starters from last year's program. The bad news is they lost five other senior starters to graduation.
"That's half our varsity lineup," Doll said of the losses. "They'll be tough to replace, but we return some juniors and sophomores with some experience. I have no doubt we'll be competitive in every single match."
Senior Julia Snelson has moved up to No. 2 singles. Doll said Erdman and Snelson are very close in ability and believes the latter may play a few matches at the top position.
The rest of the singles crew is young with freshman Lexi Miller taking over the No. 3 spot and sophomore Marissa Swenson handling the No. 4 position.
Senior Melissa Lager, one of the team's top doubles players a year ago, returns and has taken over the No. 1 doubles position along with sophomore Ann Coughlan. Emily Smith and Lia Spencer, two more experienced seniors, are manning the second doubles position while juniors Kendra Allen and Lynn Braun hold down the third position.
"Rochester Mayo and Century are the top two teams in the conference again," Doll said. "We think we can slide into the third position. In the section, we want to finish first or second in the South. Those are both realistic goals for us."