The New Life Academy girls' tennis team knew it was graduating two of its top players from last year's varsity team as it prepared for the start of fall practice.
But when three other experienced players decided not to go out for the team this season, the Eagles soon realized they would not have enough players to field a full varsity team.
But take a quick glance at the Eagles' record in the final weeks of the regular season, which is 6-9 heading into the week of Sept. 25, and you might not realize the challenges they have faced.
There are only nine players on the roster, meaning they have needed to forfeit at third doubles every match this season. But with a full singles lineup and two doubles teams, New Life Academy has won six dual matches with four left in the regular season.
"I'm surprised but thrilled," said Siri Nicol, a junior singles player with New Life Academy. "It's really exciting to see how our team is progressing."
Another challenge facing the Eagles is having three players who had not played tennis heading into this fall.
Two seventh-graders who are brand new to tennis are playing at second doubles. However, they have insisted on playing varsity matches even though they routinely play teams that are both older and more experienced at the sport.
"I've been amazed that these girls have handled it as well as they have," said assistant coach Jon Tretsven at a team practice Friday, Sept. 22. "Because we told them we'd forfeit the match at second doubles and have them play against less experienced players and not have it count if they wanted to. But they've insisted on playing, so it's kind of good for them that they've had a great attitude about it."
Five of the team's six wins have been by scores of 4-3, with wins at all four of the singles spots. The Eagles have positioned their most experienced players in the singles lineup to have the best chance to pick up a win.
The team's lone 5-2 victory came against St. Paul Como Park, when the first doubles team won as well.
"It's hard to sweep four singles, but we've done it six times," Tretsven said.
The Eagles improved their record to 6-6 going into a Sept. 16 tournament at Park High School. They lost twice at that tournament, however, then lost a 6-1 dual at Stewartville despite pushing multiple matches to three sets.
New Life Academy has adjusted its goals as it has already won more than expected when facing a roster not even large enough to field a full varsity team. With four matches left in the regular season, the Eagles hope to finish as close to a .500 winning percentage as possible.
"We put 100 percent effort into all of our matches," Nicol said. "Although our team is small, it's mighty. We just go out there and have fun."
New Life Academy will play road matches at St. Paul Washington, St. Paul Highland Park, St. Paul Johnson and St. Croix Lutheran to wrap up the regular season. Then it will start the Class 1A, Section 1 team tournament Thursday, Oct. 5, followed by the individual tournament Thursday, Oct. 12.