What they lack in skill-level and technique they make up for with hustle and determination, Minot High School boys tennis coach Scott DeLorme says.
And with the West Region lacking talent this year, that may be enough to put the Magicians in contention for a second straight West Region title.
"North Dakota tennis isn't very strong overall," DeLorme said, "so when you get kids that work hard, that wins them a lot of matches."
Dustin Foster, the Minot High School boys tennis team’s top player, drills a backhand down the line during practice on Thursday at Magic City Campus. Foster went 33-8 last year at No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles.
MHS, which opens its season against Dickinson at Magic City Campus at 4:15 p.m. today, has an uphill battle after losing six of its top eight players to graduation, including West Region singles champion Hunter Oothoudt. The Magicians placed second at the state tournament last year, falling to 15-time defending champion Grand Forks Red River in the final.
This season, junior Dustin Foster and senior Isaac Massey return as the only players with varsity experience. Foster finished 33-8 last season playing No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles while Massey had a 23-9 record at No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles.
Massey said with the exception of Century, which has all but its No. 4 singles player back, most of the West Region is just as inexperienced as MHS.
Meet the Magicians
Seniors:Isaac Massey, Grayson Bahl, David Hurteau
Juniors: Dustin Foster, Drew Thomas, Josh Thompson
Sophomore: Ty Nygaard
Aug. - 23, Dickinson, 4:15 p.m.; 24, Minot Round Robin at Magic City Campus, 9 a.m.; 27, at Williston, 4 p.m.; 29, at Bismarck, 4:15 p.m.
Sept. - 6, at Jamestown, 4 p.m.; 10, at Bismarck Century, 4:15 p.m.; 13, at Fargo North, 10 a.m.; 13, at Fargo South, 12:30 p.m.; 13, at West Fargo, 3:30 p.m.; 14, West Fargo Tournament at West Fargo High School, 9 a.m.; 17, Williston, 4:15 p.m.; 19, Mandan, 4:15 p.m.; 26-28, West Region Tournament at Tom O'Leary Tennis Courts in Bismarck, 10 a.m.
Oct. - 3-5, State Tournament at Fargo, 1 p.m.
"I think it'll be one of the weaker seasons for the West," Massey said. "There were a lot of graduates (last year). We had six of our top eight, I think Mandan had three or so, Bismarck High had three or so. So it won't be very strong."
Five of the Magicians' top seven players are multi-sport athletes, but DeLorme said they've been playing all summer. He described his varsity newcomers as "very capable."
"It's just going to take some time with them," said DeLorme, in his sixth year as head coach. "Get them some experience - and now they'll play three sets instead of just one (on junior varsity). The experience will be the biggest thing we need to work on."
Foster and Massey both said they've put extra pressure on themselves to improve during the offseason. Each competed in a handful of United States Tennis Association tournaments this summer in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Massey also enrolled in private lessons with teaching pro Jeff Coggins.
In the three-singles, two-doubles format of the region and state team tournaments, the pair's experience will have a greater impact than in the 6-3 format of the regular season - something that could be crucial during the Magicians' region title defense.
"We'll have a good chance in regionals with that format against Century if we can get two wins at 1 and 2 singles with Dustin and I," Massey said. "I think we have a better chance to upset them than anyone else."
But first, the varsity newscomers will need to gain a bit of experience.
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.