FAIRMONT - Legendary St. James girls tennis mentor Les Zellmann gave a parting handshake, flashed his trademark grin and said, "We learned a few things today."
No. 1 on the list would be Zellmann's Class A, No. 3-ranked Saints discovered that second-year Fairmont head coach Kathy Krezel's Cardinals have become a legitimate foe on the prep tennis courts.
St. James exited the Cardinal Courts with a 6-1 South Central Conference team decision in hand on Thursday, but the final tally was not indicative of the competitive nature of the dual meet.
TEAMWORK — Fairmont first doubles player Sophie Shelgren (left) serves as teammate Abby Fitzgerald awaits a return during South Central Conference tennis action Thursday at the Cardinal Courts in Fairmont. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"I knew that our girls could play at this level, but the key is making them believe it," said Krezel. "I think maybe we accomplished that today against a quality team like St. James as each and every match was competitive right to the end."
Anna Haler and Hannah Christensen staked the visiting Saints to an early 1-0 lead by netting a hard-fought 6-2, 6-3 victory over Jill Paris and Shantel Quist at No. 2 doubles.
Paris and Quist kept within striking distance, trailing 4-3 in the second set before Haler and Christensen recorded the pivotal service break to capture two games in a row to seal their winning doubles decision.
Taylor Nordhausen then outslugged Ellie Tonder at fourth singles, 6-2, 6-4, to inch St. James halfway to a team triumph. Tonder held an early 2-1 lead in the second frame and battled to 5-4 before Nordhausen notched the set-sealing game win for Point 2.
Ironically, the Saints' third and fourth team tallies did not occur for another 35 minutes midway through the 3-hour slugfest.
"We're getting closer, but just not quite close enough yet," Cardinal assistant coach Eric Johnson said in reference to how much the hometown netters have improved since last fall.
Fairmont No. 1 singles player Aubrey Green did exactly that, in whittling Class A, No. 8-ranked Lorena Hernandez's early 3-0 first-set lead to a 5-4 deficit before Hernandez fended off Green's comeback for a 6-4 victory.
Hernandez then clinched St. James' third team point by claiming a 6-1 second-set decision.
In similar fashion to her state-qualifying older siblings, sophomore Aubrey Eckstrom delivered a pivotal point - the meet-winner - by outdueling Allison Moeller at third singles.
Moeller and Eckstrom exchanged baseline strokes to 4-3 in the opening set before Eckstrom reeled off two key wins to capture the first frame, 6-3.
Eckstrom and Moeller then traded service breaks in Games 5 and 7 of the second set before the Saints' sophomore bounced back for two more wins in a row to seal her second straight 6-3 decision.
Fairmont's Sophie Shelgren and Abby Fitzgerald always were within striking distance of Acacia Foss and freshman phenom Ashley Frederickson during a good-to-the-last-shot No. 1 doubles clash.
Foss and Frederickson persevered in the opening set by netting two games in a row for a 6-3 victory before Shelgren and Fitzgerald pounded their way back into contention with a key break at 5-all in the second segment.
The Saints, however, regrouped during the quick changeover and registered a service break of their own before Foss' precision serving iced the 7-5 second-set win.
Andrea Carstensen and Briana Gratz then delivered the Cardinals' lone team tally by outlasting Morgan Sandmeyer and Alejandra Trapero at No. 3 doubles, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
Carstensen and Gratz finally prevailed in the opening segment after battling through seven deuces in Game 10 en route the set victory.
Sandmeyer, however, got the hot hand near the net to help turn the tide in the Saints' direction via a 6-3 second-set win.
Gratz and Carstensen then adjusted their strategy during the 10-minute break before the third set, building a 4-1 lead en route to the 6-2 decisive win.
St. James' Julia Boeve then outdueled Fairmont's Missy Viesselman in a three-set marathon match at second singles, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Viesselman utilized solid groundstrokes to claim the opening frame before Boeve slowed the tempo to her liking to post back-to-back set wins.
Fairmont (5-2, 0-1 SCC) competes in the Redwood Valley Invitational on Saturday in Redwood Falls.
St. James (9-1, 1-0) plays host to a four-team invitational on Saturday.
St. James 6, Fairmont 1
Singles: Lorena Hernandez (SJ) d. Aubrey Green, 6-4, 6-1. Julia Boeve (SJ) d. Missy Viesselman, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Aubrey Eckstrom (SJ) d. Allison Moeller, 6-3, 6-3. Taylor Nordhausen (SJ) d. Ellie Tonder, 6-2, 6-4.
Doubles: Acacia Foss-Ashley Frederickson (SJ) d. Sophie Shelgren-Abby Fitzgerald, 6-3, 7-5. Anna Haler-Hannah Christensen (SJ) d. Jill Paris-Shantel Quist, 6-2, 6-3. Andrea Carstensen-Briana Gratz (F) d. Morgan Sandmeyer-Alejandra Trapero, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
St. James 9, Fairmont 0
Doubles: Alison Durheim-Hollie Peterson (SJ) d. Lauren Carlson-Madisyn Plumhoff, 4-1, 4-0. Miranda Jacoby-Miranda Giese (SJ) d. Anagha Komaragiri-Leah Fortune, 2-4, 4-0, (10-7). Lesley Vargas-Lil Krause (SJ) d. Kaitlynn Cihoski-Hayley Fogelson, 4-0, 4-2. Shenya Johnson-Nicole Koenig (SJ) d. Chloe Graif-Morgan Cihoski, 4-1, 4-0. Mackenzie Blickem-Bailey Haseman (SJ) d. Holly Petrowiak-Emily O'Connor, 4-1, 4-3. Mikkala Pearson-Kristin Leimer (SJ) d. Marina Speckman-Chloe Diekmann, 4-0, 4-1. Ana San Miguel-Etye Perez (SJ) d. Makena Rodriguez-Sydney Hainy, 4-1, 4-0. Brandi Smith-Hannah Peterson (SJ) d. Lydia Thatcher-Natalie Abel, 4-0, 4-0. Jackie San Miguel-Brianna Ringen (SJ) d. Madison Hagen-Brittany Bass, 4-0, 4-0.
Blue Earth Area 6, St. Peter 1 - The Bucs swept the singles bracket to fuel a 6-1 victory over the Saints during South Central Conference tennis action Thursday at Schroeder Courts in Blue Earth.
Karleigh Wolff outlasted St. Peter's Rachel Huber, 5-7, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, at No. 1 singles, while Blue Earth Area teammate Kaitlyn Olsen posted a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Val Bresnahan at the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
Lindsey Prokop downed Katie Sandquist, 6-3, 6-0, at third singles, while Buc teammate Anikka Wilhelmi coasted by Aliza Doherty at the No. 4 position in the bracket, 6-1, 6-0.
Karli Olsen and Natali Fellows collected a team point for Blue Earth Area in doubles action, netting a 6-2, 6-3 decision over Kali Cummins and Mallory Malecek at the No. 1 spot.
Beka Krussow and Paige Darrington wrapped up the Bucs' scoring by pocketing a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Michaela Meyer and Allie Sandquist at second doubles.
Natalie Weelborg and Johanna Dietrich netted the Saints' point via a 6-1, 7-5 win over Kali Viland and Lacey Benz at third doubles.
Blue Earth Area (8-1, 1-0 SCC) plays Tri-City United at 11 a.m. Saturday in Montgomery.