Bemidji 8th grader Owen Lappinga gains confidence in surge to No. 1 singles

Apr. 25—BEMIDJI — Owen Lappinga isn't old enough to drive. But he's old enough to play No. 1 singles for the Bemidji High School boys tennis team.

Lappinga played his first varsity season for the Lumberjacks last year when he was in seventh grade. Now in eighth grade, head coach Kyle Fodness has given him the reigns of the top BHS solo player.

"He earned it," Fodness said. "He's our best singles player. Even as an eighth-grader, knowing he will have to learn in that spot, he will grow. Owen has done a really good job of knowing that, win or lose, he has a chance to learn, improve and get better."

Lappinga won all three of his matches in the Jacks' home quadrangular sweep on Thursday at the BHS tennis courts. He beat Grand Rapids' Grady Griffen 6-0, 6-0 before handling Sauk Rapids-Rice's John Knoblauch 6-0, 6-1. He ended his day with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Carson Knutson of East Grand Forks.

"The wind was definitely a factor," Lappinga said. "I feel like I used it to my advantage, for the most part. It was kind of a southern wind today. When I was hitting into the wind, I'd hit it harder and more through the court. On the other side, I'd hit it with a little more spin."

Lappinga's assessment of the windy conditions is just one example of how ahead he is of other players his age.

"You can use the win to produce angles you can't produce without it," Lappinga said. "You definitely have to think about the wind because it's hard to be consistent if you're not conscious of it."

Lappinga spent last season as the Lumberjacks' No. 4 singles player, going 7-9 on a veteran team in seventh grade.

He started playing organized tennis in sixth grade after playing informally growing up. While in sixth grade, he decided to make tennis a priority. After his first varsity season, he spent some time in the offseason preparing for an increased role.

Lappinga didn't know that role would be No. 1 singles.

"It's been good," Lappinga said. "I've had a couple of tough losses, but I'm paying really good players. I just have to make sure I keep that in mind. But I'm out here having fun, even though I'm the underdog in some of these matches. I like being the underdog; it takes the pressure off a bit. I think you learn more from playing (against) better players."

Lappinga goes head-to-head with each school's best singles player, which comes with pressure.

"It's definitely staying calm," Lappinga said on the most challenging part of playing No. 1 singles. "I'm playing the best singles player on the other team, and I have to remember that. We're all humans, and we make mistakes. I just need to remember to stay confident in myself and make smart shots."

Lappinga is mature enough to learn from the tough moments. He takes each loss as a chance to improve, which is one of the reasons Fodness trusts him in the top spot.

"Losses are helpful for you to know what you have to do better," Lappinga said. "Losses allow you to see if you executed your shots and how you executed your strategy. You see what works and what could've worked better."

Lappinga is one of three eighth graders that compete at the varsity level. Josh Arel routinely plays No. 4 singles, while Blake Friese has become a rotational player in Bemidji's depth.

"When Josh Arel and Blake Friese look at Owen playing in that spot, they have a little camaraderie there knowing there's another guy in it with them," Fodness said. "He has such a team-first focus. It's nice for Owen, too. He's not the only one that can't drive that's out here playing varsity tennis."

BHS is learning on the fly with all its new faces this spring. And while the mountain to get back to the state tournament as a team is steep, this group is going through formative experiences that will pay dividends by the time they can drive themselves to school every day.

"I've got a lot of good friends here," Lappinga said. "Everybody on the team is super nice. We have eighth- and ninth-graders who want to get better and improve. I think we're all excited for the years to come."

Bemidji won all three matches at home on Thursday. The Lumberjacks beat Grand Rapids and East Grand Forks 6-1, sandwiching a 7-0 win over Sauk Rapids-Rice.

Lappinga, Dom Arndt and Arel each went 3-0 in singles matches. Jack McNallan, JD Hasbargan, Brooks Johnson, Thomas Harris and Blake Friese all went undefeated on Thursday afternoon at the BHS tennis courts.

Bemidji 6, Grand Rapids 1


No. 1: Lappinga (BHS) def. Griffen 6-0, 6-0

No. 2: Johnson (BHS) def. Haurkula 6-0, 6-1

No. 3: Arndt (BHS) def. Colter 6-2, 6-3

No. 4: Arel (BHS) def. Wheelock 6-1, 6-2


No. 1: McNallan/Hasbargen (BHS) def. Larson 6-0, 6-1

No. 2: Spahn/Morque (GR) def. Louvar/Mathews 6-2, 6-4

No. 3: Harris/Friese (BHS) def. Guigisberg/Peterson 6-4, 6-4

Bemidji 7, Sauk Rapids-Rice 0


No. 1: Lappinga (BHS) def. Knoblauch 6-0, 6-1

No. 2: Hasbargen (BHS) def. Eichens 6-2, 6-2

No. 3: Arndt (BHS) def. Folsom 6-1, 6-0

No. 4: Arel (BHS) def. Bitkowski 6-2, 6-0


No. 1: McNallan/Johnson (BHS) def. Fuentes/Euteneven 6-1, 6-1

No. 2: Louvar/Mathews (BHS) def. Koll/Schmidt 6-1, 5-7, 10-6

No. 3: Harris/Friese (BHS) def. Jansky/Wagner 6-0, 6-0

Bemidji 6, East Grand Forks 1


No. 1: Lappinga (BHS) def. Knutson 6-4, 6-1

No. 2: Arndt (BHS) def. McMahon 6-1, 6-3

No. 3: Nolan (EGF) def. Mathews 6-1, 6-7, 10-6

No. 4: Arel (BHS) def. McMahon 6-1, 6-2


No. 1: McNallan/Hasbargen (BHS) def. D'Heilly/Steenerson 6-0, 6-2

No. 2: Johnson/Louvar (BHS) def. Wavra/Kalenze 6-3, 7-6

No. 3: Harris/Friese (BHS) def. Hanson/Kovar 6-3, 3-6, 10-7