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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Prairie girls’ tennis team hasn’t tasted much failure over the past few seasons.
But the defending Class 2A team state champions, winners of 29 of 32 duals entering 2017, were a bit ordinary at the start of their title defense with a pair of narrow losses.
“They were disappointed,” said Prairie Coach Scott Leggat, who will lead the Hawks into a Class 2A team tennis regional semifinal against Cedar Falls Monday at 9 a.m. at the Prairie tennis courts. “I think they came in and it motivated them a little more to get working a little harder. That is starting to pay off a little bit now.”
The surging Hawks (11-2, 11-2 Mississippi Valley Conference) have reeled off eight wins in a row and claimed a share of the Valley Division championship.
Prairie is again led by senior Vale Caro, who is in her fourth season atop the lineup. The UNI signee was named MVC Athlete of the Year for the third time on Wednesday and is a two-time state qualifier in singles and doubles, including a doubles state runner-up finish last season.
Prairie had never reached the team state tournament before she stepped on campus. The Hawks could earn their third berth in a row Monday.
“It’s really exciting,” Caro said. “A lot of the seniors this year, we’ve been together for a long time and so if we could do it one more time together as a team with this coach that we’ve had for a while, it would mean a lot to us.”
Juniors Anna Postnikov and seniors Karleigh Schilling and Madie Renner are all two-time individual state qualifiers. Postnikov made a significant leap to second in the lineup this season, and has responded with 10 wins in 13 matches, including eight in a row.
“I think my game has really improved,” Postnikov said. “I’ve become a lot more aggressive ... I’ve just learned how to put the ball away more. I think that has helped me be successful.”
Senior Haley Stecklien and junior Megan Grimm have become regular contributors at the bottom of the lineup with considerable success for the Hawks, who can qualify for state with a victory over Cedar Falls, then another at 1 p.m. against the winner of Dubuque Senior and Kennedy.
“We’re going to have to play our best tennis,” Leggat said. “The girls know that we can’t take anybody lightly. Even though we’ve played them in the past, they’re solid teams, all three of them are. We just need to make sure we’re ready to play.”
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