Katelyn Flatgard is ready to take the next step.
For the last two seasons, the Mankato East senior played No. 3 singles for the East/Loyola girls tennis team, but now it’s time to move up a spot.
“I’m hoping to have a successful senior season,” Flatgard said, “even though it will be a little more difficult than last year because I’ll be playing at a higher level. I have some good skills, and I picked up a few things in the offseason, so I feel I’m prepared.”
For the last four years, Hannah Weng held the Cougars’ No. 1 singles spot. Now that she’s graduated, junior Kezia Kim has moved to No. 1, and Flatgard, the team’s captain, is now No. 2.
“Katelyn was very successful at No. 3 last year,” fifth-year coach Ryan Fredrickson said. “I think stepping up to No. 2 will help her style of game. She’s a very consistent player. She can handle other players’ pace. I think she’ll find even more success because of her personal style and because of the work she’s put in.”
The spot suited her on Friday when she took the No. 2 singles title at the Cougars’ season-opening invitational on the East courts, going 6-0 in the round-robin tournament. Teammate Maddy Johansen also went 6-0 and won the No. 3 singles title, and East/Loyola also won the team championship. Kim went 3-3 and took second place at No. 1 singles.
Fredrickson called Flatgard “a court rat.” She spent numerous hours on the outdoor tennis court over the summer, as well as at the Gustavus Adolphus College indoor facility in the winter.
“It was a lot of time,” Flatgard admitted.
While she agreed that consistency is her strength, she’s worked to be a little more aggressive this season, whether that means going to the net more or going for more winners.
“I’m not the most powerful or hard-hitting player,” she said, “but I always try to get the ball back. I’m pretty energetic; I don’t give up in a match. Even if I’m down, I still think the match could go either way.”
Flatgard went 17-7 last season, including 14-6 in singles play. Kim had a singles record of 13-7.
Flatgard and Kim went 3-1 playing doubles together last year, including in the section tournament, but they’ll hold down the top two singles spots during the regular season, said Fredrickson, who was still considering the Cougars’ best lineup during Friday’s season-opening invitational.
“She’s a little anxious, but (Kim) is looking forward to playing No. 1,” he said.
Senior Maddy Johansen played doubles last year but could find a home at Flatgard’s former No. 3 singles spot, as she did on Friday.
Two more seniors, Jadyn Weckworth and Sydney Dressen, are dedicated doubles players, although Fredrickson wasn’t certain if they would play together or with other partners.
The Cougars went 11-10 last season and finished sixth in the Big Nine Conference. They hope to improve in both areas this year and qualify for the section semifinals at Gustavus.
“Even though we lost a good player at the top, I think everyone can shift up and fill those spots,” Fredrickson said.
Friday’s meet also included Le Sueur-Henderson, New Prague, New Ulm, Sibley East, Totino-Grace and Austin.
Le Sueur-Henderson had three winners: Greta Nesbit at No. 1 singles, Chloe Brandt at No. 4 singles and Morgan Jones and Bella Halloway at No 3 doubles. New Prague’s Emily Russo and Maddie Dorner won at No. 1 doubles, and teammates Sarah Berg and Maggie Nielsen won at No. 2 doubles.
East/Loyola will play again at 11 a.m. today when they host a home meet against Hutchinson.
Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato.