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Faith Lutheran wants to shed runnerup tag

The word “almost” is so closely attached to Faith Lutheran’s girls tennis team, it might as well be the team’s nickname.

For the past two seasons, the Crusaders came up just short in their quest to win Division I-A state and Southern Region titles.

But now, the Crusaders are tired of being almost good enough.

The state runner-up in each of the last two years, Faith Lutheran already has shaken one jinx this season and hopes to rid itself of the other this weekend at the state tournament in Northern Nevada.

Faith Lutheran (15-1) plays Churchill County in a state semifinal at noon Thursday at the Reno Tennis Center. The Meadows (12-3) meets Truckee in the other semifinal. The two winners square off for the state title Friday in Truckee, Calif.

“We’re more focused. We realize how important it is,” sophomore Madison Foley said. “Our practices are more extreme. Everyone is working harder than they were last year.”

For the first time, Faith Lutheran is the South’s No. 1 seed in the state tournament, after nipping The Meadows in a tiebreaker for the region title Oct. 10. Faith Lutheran is 2-1 against the Mustangs this season, having also won a tiebreaker in the teams’ league match Sept. 12.

The Mustangs handed Faith Lutheran eight losses in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, including the region and state finals both years.

“The first time (this season), it was just amazing because we had never beaten them before,” Crusaders senior Kathleen Wright said. “When we beat them again in regionals, it showed that all of our hard work paid off.

“This year, everyone wants to win. In the past years, some people just wanted to have fun. Everyone here now wants to win.”

Foley and Wright also will compete in the state singles tournament, which begins Friday. They lead a squad that still is young, but a year wiser, and rich in talent.

Senior Kristina Berg and junior Talia Graf, and sophomores Jayden Mattson and Michelle Reiss also will compete in the doubles tournament.

“It would be the payoff of a lot of hard work,” Faith Lutheran coach Jeff Foley said. “A lot of the high school kids, once the season is over, they put their rackets in the garage for the next nine months. I’ve been really trying to instill in the kids that they have to play. You can’t put your racket down and start again in August. If you do that, you can’t compete with the good teams. The fact that a lot of them are getting involved in tournaments, it shows that the work pays off.”

Experience also could be key for Faith Lutheran, which returns six of the 10 players who competed in last year’s state final match.

“We know what we’re getting ourselves into,” Wright said.

Clark and The Meadows are the Southern Region representatives in the state boys tournament. The Chargers have won 49 straight matches and are bidding for their third straight state crown.

The Division I state tournament also begins Thursday in Reno with Palo Verde’s boys and girls and Coronado’s boys and girls competing for titles.

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5230.

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