ST. PETER - At the start of Monday's final rounds of the Section 2A individual tennis meet, Blue Earth Area had two chances to advance to the state tournament.
When the final match was done at the Swanson Tennis Center at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, junior Karleigh Wolff had punched her ticket to the tournament.
Wolff did have to fight off Breann Walsh from Sibley East in a true-second challenge match to earn her berth in the tournament.
STATE-BOUND BUC — Blue Earth Area Buc singles player Karleigh Wolff drills a forehand winner during Section 2A individual tennis action Monday at the Swanson Tennis Center in St.?Peter. Wolff went on to fend off a true-second challenge to capture an individual state bid. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)
Wolff started her day with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over United South Central's Julia Stenzel in the sectional semifinals.
That put Wolff against top-seeded Claire Christian of USC in the singles final.
Christian won the first set 6-2, but Wolff continued to rally in the second set, winning two straight games to close to 5-4.
After holding her service game with the help of powerful ground strokes, Wolff ripped a forehand cross-court winner to cap a victory on one of Christian's service games.
"I thought that Karleigh played well against Claire," said Blue Earth Area head coach Terry Barnes. "Claire is a good player with solid ground strokes, a solid serve and is very competitive. So I thought Karleigh played well with her."
Back on her serve, Wolff hoped to even the set at 5-5 with another hold, but Christian's aggressive returns and consistent play along the baseline held off Wolff for the 6-4 set win.
That set up a true-second match between Wolff and Walsh, who Christian had beaten 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals. Walsh then beat Stenzel in the third-place match, 1-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Wolff again took the opening set 6-4, holding off Walsh before the Sibley East netter attempted a comeback late in the second set.
Trailing 4-1, Walsh rallied to win a pair of games with aggressive lobs and consistent returns.
"Claire has good shots, and is aggressive, but I knew that Breann can return a lot of shots," said Wolff. "So I had to change up my plan a little bit for that match."
Wolff's consistent play and steady serve in the later matches helped her hold off Walsh for the 6-3 second-set win.
"We talked after her match against Claire, and I told her that a first serve at 90 percent speed would be better than a 100 percent serve that lands 10 feet out of bounds," said Barnes. "When she gets that first serve in, it really helps her the rest of the point."
Blue Earth Area teammates Karli Olsen and Natali Fellows tried to join Wolff in the state tournament in the doubles bracket, but fell one spot short in third place.
Olsen and Fellows struggled in their first match against Jordan's Victoria Read and Rachel Menke.
Read and Menke handed the Buc duo a 6-1, 6-4 loss in the semifinals.
"They are young girls, and they play well together, but I think today the nerves really got to them," said Barnes. "They made more unforced errors in that first match, and it was tough for them to come back from that."
The Buc sophomores did bounce back in their second match, however, beating Belle Plaine's Ashley Morrison and Jane Schneider, 6-3, 6-4.
"I thought it was tremendous the way that they played in that second match today. It was a real learning experience," said Barnes. "After losing that first match they could have stayed down, but they were able to come back and it was fun to watch them play well."
Fellows and Olsen battled with Morrison and Schneider to make it 3-2 in the firt set, before Olsen's serve put the Belle Plaine pair on their heels.
With the quick reflexes of Fellows at the net, a volley split Morrison and Schneider, allowing the Bucs to take the 4-3 lead and eventual 6-3 first-set victory.
From there, Olsen and Fellows then returned seemingly each of the Tigers' shots, forcing them to make errors for a 4-1 lead.
Schneider then held her serve with the help of a pair of aces to cut the deficit to 4-3, before Fellows responded with her own strong serving game to guide the Bucs to a 5-3 edge.
Morrison's strong ground strokes pinned Olsen and Fellows to the baseline, making it 5-4.
Fortunately for the Bucs, an ace serve off the racket of Olsen allowed the Blue Earth Area teammates to take the 6-4 second-set victory.
With Morrison and Schneider losing to United South Central's Linsey Thisius and Kia Legard in the semifinals, 6-1, 6-2, that meant that the Bucs were needing a Jordan victory to maintain a chance at the state meet.
Unfortunately, the Rebels downed the Jordan pairing, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, in the finals to give the Bucs third place.
Wolff will move on to play in the Class A state individual singles tournament, starting at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
Section 2A Tennis
Semifinals: Claire Christian (USC) d. Breann Walsh (SE) 6-2, 6-3. Karleigh Wolff (BEA) d. Julia Stenzel (USC) 6-2, 6-2.
Championship: Wolff (BEA) d. Christian (USC) 6-2, 6-4.
Third-Place Match: Schneider (SE) d. Stenzel (USC) 1-6, 6-4, 6-0.
True Second Match: Wolff (BEA) d. Walsh (SE) 6-4, 6-3.
Semifinals: Linsey Thisius-Kia Legard (USC) d. Ashley Morrison-Jane Schneider (BP) 6-1, 6-2. Victoria Read-Rachel Menke (J) d. Karli Olsen-Natali Fellows (BEA) 6-1, 6-4.
Championship: Thisius-Legard (USC) d. Read-Menke (J) 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
Third-Place Match: Olsen-Fellows (BEA) d. Morrison-Schneider (BP) 6-3, 6-4.