MINNEAPOLIS — A wide-eyed seventh-grader the last time the Stillwater girls’ tennis team advanced to the state tournament, senior Natalie Phippen and the Ponies secured a return trip this year after knocking off Mahtomedi 6-1 in Monday’s Section 4AA finals at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center.
The top-seeded Ponies (15-2) swept all four singles matches in straight sets and claimed two more points at first and third doubles to provide for a relatively stress-free victory and their first section title since 2007.
“I am really excited. I think it’s long overdue,” said Phippen, who also qualified for state in doubles as an eighth-grader and in singles two of the past three years. “Finally we made it. Since seventh grade we haven’t made it so it’s a good feeling.”
Stillwater, which also defeated the second-seeded and defending section champion Zephyrs 4-3 during the regular season, advanced to the finals with a 4-3 victory over East Ridge on Friday.
Having experienced both, Phippen is eager to be competing at state with her teammates this time around.
“It’s different because when you’re with the team they all get to compete and play and it’s a lot more fun to have everyone on your side and cheering. It’s just a lot more fun and it’s better, I like it a lot more.”
Stillwater will compete in the state quarterfinals on Oct. 23 back at the Baseline Tennis Center against an opponent to be determined.
The Ponies were also seeded first in the section a year ago before falling to an experienced Mahtomedi team in the finals.
“I was just real thrilled at the overall team play from top to bottom,” Ponies coach Dave Kahl said. “I think they elevated their play and you want to play your best at this time, and I think we did.”
Phippen defeated Meera Damordaran 6-1, 6-1 at first singles and Savannah Johnson followed with an impressive 6-4, 6-1 victory over previously unbeaten Olivia Paradise at second singles. Johnson, who lost to Paradise in three sets earlier this season, jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the opening set before dropping the next two games, but recovered to win eight of the next 10 games.
“Savannah played outstanding to win at second singles,” Kahl said. “I was just really impressed with her mental toughness today. (Paradise) came back at her and it was really back and forth from there, but Savannah really picked it up at crunch time and was able to finish off the set and the second set she ran away with it. She just played smart and consistent, but was aggressively moving the ball around.”
The only lineup change Mahtomedi made was moving Madison Fernandez from first doubles to third singles, but Aliza Deming was too strong while posting a comfortable 6-0, 6-3 victory.
“I think they tried to strengthen their third singles and Aliza won convincingly,” Kahl said.
The closest singles match came at fourth singles where Jenna Sherrick held off Mahtomedi’s Emily Cooper 6-4, 6-4 to complete the sweep.
“They’ve got a really good fourth singles player,” Kahl said.
Mahtomedi won at first and second doubles against the Ponies earlier this season, but Robbie Ellingson and Shelby Anderson turned around one of those setbacks while defeating Hannah Shands and Erin Hoffman 6-4, 2-6, (14-12) on Monday.
Second doubles also required three sets to decide, although Olivia Stutz and Michelle Pakonen pulled out Mahtomedi’s only point with a 4-6 6-3, (11-9) victory over Hannah Quinn and Shelby Ahrendt.
“First doubles had lost the first time and we lost second doubles today, but it was a whole lot closer than when we played earlier,” Kahl said. “To turn around first doubles was a nice bonus for those girls to be rewarded for elevating their games.”
Stillwater also won at third doubles with Maggie Corman and Jackie Ellingson knocking off Claire Belisle and Maddie Dougherty 6-3, 6-4.
“Give them credit, they aren’t always flashy but they’re efficient,” Kahl said. “They actually were down a little bit in the second set when I stepped away to check on the other side and when I came right back they were shaking hands.”
It was that previous victory over Mahtomedi a month ago that provided confidence for the Ponies coming down the stretch.
“That gave us good confidence because we knew then that during sections we’d have a chance,” Phippen said. “That helped us a lot when we beat them.
“I thought we could do it because we had a ton of girls this year that put in the offseason and played during the summer and the winter and that really helped us. Our singles lineup has really pulled through and the doubles has pulled through a lot, especially today, they played very well.”
n Stillwater’s Emily Frenchik posted an 8-4 exhibition singles victory over Carol Weenig while Alex Kent and Izzi Boo of Mahtomedi defeated Amanda Williams and Remi Larson in a doubles match.
Stillwater 6, Mahtomedi 1
No. 1 — Natalie Phippen (St) def. Meera Damodaran, 6-1, 6-1.
No. 2 — Savannah Johnson (St) def. Olivia Paradise, 6-4, 6-1.
No. 3 — Aliza Deming (St) def. Madison Fernandez, 6-0, 6-3.
No. 4 — Jenna Sherrick (St) def. Emily Cooper, 6-4, 6-4.
No. 1 — Robbie Ellingson-Shelby Anderson (St) def. Hannah Shands-Erin Hoffman, 6-4, 2-6, (14-12).
No. 2 — Olivia Stutz-Michelle Pakonen (Mah) def. Hannah Quinn-Shelby Ahrendt, 4-6, 6-3, (11-9).
No. 3 — Maggie Corman-Jackie Ellingson (St) def. Claire Belisle-Maddie Dougherty, 6-3, 6-4.