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Sophie Groen, Isabela Nelson treasure Senior Day memories amidst Groen's long COVID battle

Mar. 22—BEMIDJI — Sophie Groen didn't envision the way the last two years of her tennis career have played out.

The Bemidji State senior women's tennis player from Uitgeest, Netherlands, was an ace for the Beavers in the first two years of her career, regularly playing at the top of BSU's singles and doubles lineups. But during the past two seasons, her experience has been very different.

Groen contracted COVID-19 during the fall of 2022. As the 2023 tennis season approached in the winter, she found herself unable to practice and exert herself at the level she had been accustomed to.

"(In the) beginning of the (practice) season of junior year, I was sick all the time and not feeling good," Groen said. "And then during practices, (eventually I) wasn't allowed to practice anymore. At the beginning, I didn't really want to admit to it. I was like, 'Nah, I'll be back out there in like a month or whatever.' Then I started realizing, 'OK, this is going to take longer. I'll be out for a while.' I started to admit that it was actually going to take longer than just a couple of weeks."

Ultimately, she returned home to the Netherlands and missed the 2023 season. This year, she's returned to the court a few times but has not been able to participate week in and week out.

Nevertheless, she was honored along with fellow senior Isabela Nelson during the Beavers' Senior Day match against Minnesota Crookston on Friday at the Gillett Wellness Center, bringing some joy to another season that has been marred by the persistence of long COVID.

"It's been tough," Groen said. "Kind of like a roller coaster, ups and downs. But I'm still enjoying it, and I'm excited to come back next year and end on a good (year)."

Groen will graduate this May with a bachelor's degree in Sport Management, but because she has missed so much time, she has another season of eligibility in 2025. She plans to use it, but this year likely marks her final chance to play with Nelson.

Nelson, who hails from Thief River Falls, will also graduate this year and plans to take a gap year before enrolling at St. Scholastica to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

"It's been an awesome four years at Bemidji," Nelson said. "I'm really happy I decided to spend my four years of undergrad here. The people I've met here have been absolutely incredible. I couldn't have asked for a better team this year. All the girls, they work their butts off, and I really appreciate all the work they put in this year."

Groen and Nelson became fast friends during the 2020-21 school year, their first at Bemidji State. They've lived together for three years and got to know each other very well during their tenure at BSU, giving Nelson a unique perspective into what Groen has dealt with over the past year and a half.

"We came in here our freshman year together," Nelson said. "It was during COVID. So it was really hard to meet people, and we instantly became the best of friends, best of teammates. She was one of my favorite hitting partners I've ever had, so it was really tough when she had to take a break last year and then most of this year.

"But I was lucky enough to get to play doubles with her for a few matches this year, and I hope that's not quite over yet. I hope she gets back on the court towards the end of our season here and we can get some more doubles wins under our belt. I know it's been tough for her, but she's really been making her way through and I'm proud of how far she's come. I'm really happy that I got to meet her."

For head coach Kyle Fodness, the way Groen battled through adversity as a senior captain typified the variety of contributions she's made to the BSU team during her four years. Groen has made the effort to travel to all of the Beavers' matches this season whether or not she has played.

"You can have as many slogans (as you want) about doing the right thing no matter what and doing the best you can given the circumstances," Fodness said. "And that's all great when you're winning and you're healthy and things are going really well. That's put to the test when things are on the other end and not going well in one of those areas.

"(She's) been dealing with some frustrations and everything. So I've been blown away by (her response). Today, she finds out she's not playing, she jumps right into coaching. ... She transitioned right away from, 'Well, I'm not playing today,' to, 'What can I do to help the team today? This is the most I can do to help the team today. So I'm going to do that.'"

Bemidji State (1-6, 0-5 NSIC) struggled against an improved Golden Eagles team, losing 7-0 on the scoresheet. The Beavers were defeated in all nine matches against UMC.

Kate Taylor suffered a close defeat at No. 1 singles, losing 6-3, 6-4. She teamed up with Valesca Rodriguez in BSU's closest doubles match, losing 6-4 at No. 1 doubles.

Ana Lucia Ibanez posted Bemidji State's best showing in singles. Playing in the No. 4 spot, Ibanez took the second set 6-4 over Minnesota Crookston's Blaike Zander but lost the decisive third set by the same 6-4 margin.

Minnesota Crookston 7, Bemidji State 0

Singles

No. 1: Schneider (UMC) def. Taylor 6-3, 6-4

No. 2: de Lucas Rivera (UMC) def. Rodriguez 6-0, 6-1

No. 3: Solis Guals (UMC) def. Sand 6-1, 6-4

No. 4: Zander (UMC) def. Ibanez 6-0, 4-6, 6-4

No. 5: Cases Mundet (UMC) def. Burger 6-0, 6-2

No. 6: Singh (UMC) def. Nelson 6-0, 6-1

Doubles

No. 1: de Lucas Rivera/Solis Guals (UMC) def. Taylor/Rodriguez, 6-4

No. 2: Schneider/Zander (UMC) def. Sand/Ibanez 6-2

No. 3: Singh/Cases Mundet (UMC) def. Nelson/Schwartzer 6-0