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Preview: East Ridge boys' tennis seniors get one more shot

Ben van der Sman (background) takes a groundstroke while teammate Evan Fridinger stands at the baseline during practice last Thursday. Both Raptors were individual state tournament participants last year. Blaze Fugina / Bulletin

The seniors on the East Ridge boys' tennis team will get one last hurrah this season.

Head coach Suzie Heideman remembers when most of the team's seniors started with the program as seventh-graders. Now they are mostly grown up and have helped turn East Ridge into one of the top tennis teams in the state.

"It's kind of a special year for me to see them all through the high school tennis program," Heideman said during a practice last Thursday. "They're seniors, and they are all taller than me now. When they were all seventh-graders, they were all shorter than me."

Three seniors graduated from last year's East Ridge team that finished third in the Class 2A team tournament. East Ridge defeated fellow Suburban East Conference opponent Mounds View 4-3 in the third-place match June 8 at the University of Minnesota.

With six seniors returning from last year, the Raptors are aiming for an even better finish at state.

"We've got a lot of great guys coming back," top singles player Ben van der Sman said. "A lot of them put a lot of work in the offseason, so I'm really excited about what we're going to do this year."

Now a senior, van der Sman committed to the Division III Washington University (in St. Louis) men's tennis program before the start of this season. After defeating Rochester Mayo's Sebastian Vile in the Class 2A third-place singles match at state last year, van der Sman figures to be a top-ranked singles player heading into the start of the season.

"I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm excited to see what happens," van der Sman said. "I know I have some great competition here at some other schools. But I've really developed my game. I feel like I'm a much-improved player from last year. I'm very hopeful for this year."

Being a top-ranked singles player can be a lot of pressure for someone to face heading into the start of a season. But Heideman has reminded him of the spirit of what the ranking means.

"A ranking, I've told him, is not an expectation that he never loses," she said. "But it's a compliment that he's done so well for so long."

The Raptors sent one doubles team to the state tournament last year as well. Joining van der Sman at state was the doubles team of Elias Ramirez and Evan Fridinger.

Heideman said many of the players have put in work during the offseason to prepare for this spring season. While she reminds them to take it one match at a time, Heideman hopes to send their seniors off with an ending to remember.

"It's always nice to finish on a win," she said. "There's only three teams that do it, the champions, the third place and the consolation winners. So it would be awesome to finish with a first place just for this group of guys. The sky's the limit."