Packers making a racket

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 28, 2000

Every great sports team has had a hurdle or two to clear on its way to success.

Thursday, September 28, 2000

Every great sports team has had a hurdle or two to clear on its way to success.

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Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls had the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. The Brett Favre-led Green Bay Packers had the Dallas Cowboys.

For the Austin High girls tennis team, the thorn in their side for at least the last two years has been the Rochester Mayo Spartans.

Mayo stopped the Packers run at a state team tournament appearance last year in the Section 1 finals.

This season, the Packers are ranked fifth in the Minnesota Class AA tennis poll, but they wouldn’t even be ranked first in their own conference if the Big Nine issued its own rankings.

That title would go to who else but Mayo. The Spartans are ranked third in the state poll, so it should come as no surprise that the Packers had this match circled on their calendars.

Austin’s biggest strength – it’s singles play – is also Mayo’s biggest strength. The Spartans have three girls ranked in the top 20. Ausin has none, but Packer players say all that matters is what happens on the court today.

"We don’t really care about the individual (rankings)," said the Packers’ second singles player Amy Kelly. "The (team) ranking is nice for everyone, though."

Kelly is a relative newcomer to a team whose nucleus has been playing tennis together and against each other for several years. She is in her second year with the Packers after moving over from Pacelli, where she faced Mayo’s top gun, Lauren Patterson, two years ago when Patterson was playing for Rochester Lourdes.

"I was really inexperienced," Kelly said of her encounter with Patterson. "I just remember she hit the ball very hard."

Kelly won’t face Patterson today, however. That challenge will fall on the shoulders of Laurie Alonso, the Packers’ No. 1 singles player.

Emily Bue and Katie Erickson will assume their No. 3 and No. 4 singles roles as usual today.

Alonso, who has lost just once this season, said emotion will play a big part in today’s matchup as well. In addition to the Packer players being close friends on and off the court, Austin will go to battle today without head coach Levon Larson, who is recovering from a seizure and hopes to be back on the sideline for this weekend’s Big Nine meet.

"It will be especially hard without Levon there," Alonso saiid, "but we’ll help and support each other."

"We all want to win (today) for him," Kelly added.

Packer assistant Darlene Schottler will step into Larson’s spot.

Schottler said rankings and stats can be thrown out the window when these two teams meet.

"It’s good that the girls know they worked hard enought to get (the No. 5 ranking)," Schottler said, "but if you don’t focus on the match, the rankings don’t matter."

As talented as Austin’s singles players are, the match could turn on the performance of its doubles teams. Wins by Lindy Swedberg and Chelsea McColley at first doubles, Tiffany Ankeny and Mindy Neilon at No. 2 and Caitlin Jurgenson and Noelle Wiebelhaus or Claire Johnson and Betsy Hingeveld at No. 3 may be what puts the Packers over the top today and – like Jordan’s Bulls and Favre’s Packers – helps them clear a frustrating hurdle.