Girls tennis: New Willmar coach giving back

·3 min read

Aug. 26—WILLMAR — Five years ago, Cayle Hovland was sprinting around the Willmar High School tennis courts for her senior season.

Now, she's watching forehands, backhands and lob shots by the Cardinals on the sidelines as the new girls tennis coach.

"It's kind of crazy that I was just playing on these courts (five) years ago," said Hovland, who is a new fourth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School. "I want to give back to the community and give back my knowledge with what my coaches gave me and put that on the girls and build them up."

Hovland takes over for Amy Morrell, who retired after last season. As a Willmar tennis player, Hovland was a six-time letterwinner with a 105-39 career record, winning the Class AA consolation singles championship as a senior. She was the West Central Tribune's Hengstler-Ranweiller Award winner in 2018 as the area's top female three-sport athlete, also competing in basketball and track and field.

This season, the Cardinal girls tennis team has seven returning players but is limited in varsity playing experience. In 2021, Willmar tied for third in the Central Lakes Conference with an 8-4 record, finishing 12-7 overall. The Cardinals opened the '22 season with a 7-0 loss to Alexandria on Thursday.

"We pretty much have a fresh start," Hovland said. "There's a lot of opportunities."

Junior Adali Laidlaw is one of those returning players and is the team's No. 1 singles player. Behind her is fellow junior Emmie Larson, who saw the bulk of her time last season in doubles. Freshmen Kennedy Mara and Aubrey Peterson are also starting this season in singles.

Then in doubles, the top team is senior Abby Hisken and junior Heidi Kath. Junior Katelyn Garberding and senior Addison Malone are at the No. 2 spot. The No. 3 team is senior Jenna Hisken and junior Elizabeth Hoffmann.

"They are very coach-able; these girls have great attitudes," Hovland said. "They bring the positivity to practice. They're super fun and the seniors that we have, they're really good about making sure everyone's in the loop and the young-ins aren't lost."

While building up the Cardinals, Hovland has pulled experiences from her time with former Willmar tennis coach Jim Anderson and her track and field coaches at Concordia-Moorhead where she was a NCAA Division III national qualifier in indoor and outdoor track and field as a thrower.

Working on mental conditioning has been a point of emphasis.

"We talk a lot about how body language can produce a message to our opponent and how some things will help in matches," Hovland said. "Like if we're down and it shows in our body language, they're going to think they have the game in the bag.

"We're making sure we're staying composed and learning things we can do instead of hitting our leg with our racket or showing anger and frustration."

After Thursday's season-opening match, Willmar has three of its next four meets at home: Tuesday vs. Fergus Falls; Tuesday, Sept. 6 vs. Rocori; and Thursday, Sept. 8 vs. Alexandria.

On her team's goals this season, Hovland said, "Overall, we're such a young group that we're hoping to stay competitive with our conference and challenge our athletes to compete individually."

Team CLC Overall Points

Brainerd 7-0 18-2 12

St. Cloud 6-2 11-7 12

Alexandria 8-4 10-14 9

Willmar 8-3 12-7 9

Rocori 3-5 5-8 4

Fergus Falls 2-7 5-14 4

Sartell 1-7 6-11 3

Sauk Rapids 0-5 0-18 0