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East Ridge boys' tennis: A band of brothers

Seventh-grader Luke Fridinger winds up for a forehand during last Wednesday’s meet against Woodbury at East Ridge. Luke has two older brothers on the East Ridge team this season. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia

A close-knit group of players has helped propel the East Ridge boys' tennis team to becoming one of the top Class 2A programs in the state over the past four seasons.

How close knit are they exactly? Well, more than half of the players who make up the varsity roster have a brother on the team. Out of 64 boys in the tennis program, there are 54 families.

Tennis is a sport that people of almost any age can play. Just ask East Ridge head coach Suzie Heideman, who grew up playing tennis with her family and still plays in tournaments with her two siblings to this day.

"Our family would go on vacations, and we would always pack the tennis rackets and find courts near the hotel or whatever," Heideman said. "It was something our whole family could do."

This family aspect of tennis has made its mark on East Ridge's varsity program. Senior Evan Fridinger, freshman Caleb Fridinger and seventh-grader Luke Fridinger are a trio of brothers on the East Ridge varsity team. Junior Subbaro Garlapati and freshman Sujay Garlapati grew up under the same roof, and top-ranked senior singles player Ben van der Sman is on the varsity along with his brother Eli van der Sman. In total, those seven players make up more than half of the 12-man varsity squad.

Senior captain Cormac Dolezal also has a brother, Finn Dolezal, on the junior varsity team, and their sister, Regan Dolezal, was a junior captain on the East Ridge girls' team this fall.

For Evan, playing on the varsity team with his two brothers is a unique opportunity after the trio grew up playing tennis with each other.

"It's pretty cool because I have been working with them for a long time," Evan said. "We've always played together since we were all young, so it's cool to see that we're all on the varsity team."

Of course, when you have three brothers playing the same sport there are times when they compete for bragging rights. But the brothers insist it is all in good fun.

"We're about equal," Caleb said. "We have a good competition against each other."

The East Ridge boys' tennis program has been one of the state's best over the past few seasons. The Raptors finished in third place as a team in the Class 2A state tournament in 2016 and 2014, and the program also won the consolation title in 2015.

This year, East Ridge is Class 2A's second-ranked team, according to the May 8 Minnesota Tennis Coaches Association rankings.

Part of the driving force for East Ridge's success in the past few seasons has been thanks to the East Ridge Athletic Association youth tennis program offered for students in first through sixth grade in the East Ridge High School boundary area. The program was started by the Fridinger brothers' parents, Beth and Steve Fridinger, and was named the 2016 United States Tennis Association Northern Member Organization of the Year.

The program not only helps teach the game of tennis, but it also generates interest in East Ridge tennis before students enter the high school program in seventh grade.

"A lot of times people come out for high school tennis and haven't picked up a racket. And maybe have played with a friend in the neighborhood or whatever," Heideman said. "But knowing it starts in first grade, first through sixth grade, to get them out on the courts that they might play on if they choose to play high school tennis, it's just exciting."