MINNEAPOLIS — Stillwater’s state participants extended their playing privileges at the Baseline Tennis Center while advancing in the girls’ Class AA singles and doubles tournament on Thursday.
Senior Natalie Phippen won two matches to earn a spot in today’s semifinals while the doubles team of Savannah Johnson and Aliza Deming advanced in the consolation bracket after an opening-round setback — providing a nice complement to Stillwater’s fifth-place finish in the state team tournament on Wednesday.
“It was a very successful day again,” Ponies coach Dave Kahl said. “It isn’t easy to get to this point and sometimes the team tournament takes a toll, both emotionally and physically, going into the individual tournament so to keep these girls going and performing at a high level and competing is pretty special.”
Phippen, a senior who had not won a first-round match in any of her three previous individual state appearances (doubles in 2008, singles in 2009 and 2011), knocked off No. 2 seed Hayley Haakenstad of Chanhassen 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the opener and followed with another three-set victory in the quarterfinals, this time over Taylor Tarrolly of St. Cloud Tech 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3.
“I’ll give her credit, she hasn’t had a lot of three-set matches this year,” Kahl said. “The second and third sets she played pretty clean tennis against Haakenstad and the last few games against Tarolly she really took command.”
Haakenstad was undefeated in 26 matches this season before getting stopped by Phippen — one of three seeded players to fall in the opening round in what has been the first year individual players have been seeded.
“I think it speaks volumes to the balance that is out there,” Kahl said. “Once (Rochester Century defending state champion Jessica Aney) went to the doubles, beyond that there’s a lot of girls that are really close. There’s just a lot of good tennis players out there.”
Phippen knocked off Tarrolly 6-2, 6-3 in the consolation team semifinals on Wednesday, but faced a tougher battle in Thursday’s individual competition.
“The girl from Tech played much better today,” Kahl said. “She really played well.”
Both players struggled on their serve in the second set — “They were on break throughout to the tie-breaker,” Kahl quipped — and Tarrolly eventually forced a third set. Phippen also fell behind 3-1 in that deciding set, before rallying to win five straight games to close out the victory.
“I think she tightened up a few things and she really started moving her feet a bit better, started playing smart and working points and being a little more careful with her serve,” Kahl said. “Sometimes you have to get that momentum going and she got that confidence going and rolled off the last five games of the match.”
Phippen will face another young player in Edina seventh-grader Sophia Reddy — Tarrolly is an eighth-grader and Haakenstad is a freshman — in today’s semifinals. The other semifinal features No. 1 seed Summer Brills of Mounds View vs. Faith Lee of Andover.
Johnson and Deming, meanwhile, bounced back from a first-round setback against Edina’s Meghan Herring and Kelly Reger — who helped the Hornets win their 16th straight team title on Wednesday — to advance in the consolation bracket. After defeating the Stillwater duo 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, Herring and Reger advanced to the semifinals with another three-set victory over Prior Lake’s Chloe Hall and Savannah Crowell.
The Ponies responded with a 6-4, 4-6, (10-7) victory over Mounds View’s Kourtney Jakubic and Paige Thayer in the consolation quarterfinals.
Johnson and Deming are not necessarily natural doubles players, but the results speak for themselves. The three-set loss to Herring and Reger ended a five-match winning streak for Johnson and Deming that began in the section tournament after playing most of the season at second and third doubles.
“They’ve made believers out of me, too,” Kahl said. “I wasn’t sure going into this match how they would fare. I liked their odds in the section because they’re just such good players and are going to make a lot of shots and get the ball back, but they’re not your pure doubles team that you might imagine. But the way they played they played that first match today, they played so clean, so smart, it’s amazing what happens when you don’t miss a return of serve and get the ball back — and they’re good athletes. The put balls back that a lot of other girls aren’t going to get and it shook that Edina team for a awhile. I think they played better in the one they lost than the one they won.”
Johnson and Deming will face Delano sisters Laura and Cassy Finn in today’s consolation semifinals.
“What made the difference is they dug some balls back that a lot of other teams wouldn’t get,” Kahl said. “As a doubles team, they’re just going to keep getting better as they get more confident with their volleys and picking balls off.”
Natalie Phippen (St) — def. #2 Hayley Haakenstad (Chanhassen) 2-6, 6-2, 6-2; def. Taylor Tarrolly (St. Cloud Tech) 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3. Friday’s semifinals: #1 Summer Brills (Mounds View) vs. Faith Lee (Andover) and Phippen (St) vs. Sophia Reddy (Edina), 8 a.m. Third-place match and finals at 11:30 a.m.
Savannah Johnson-Aliza Deming (St) — lost to Meghan Herring-Kelly Reger (Edina) 5-7, 6-2, 6-2; def. Kourtney Jakubic-Paige Thayer (Mounds View) 6-4, 4-6, (10-7). Friday’s consolation semifinals: Bri Smith-Theresa Tebon (Minnetonka) vs. Rachel Schneider-Alexa Snow (Holy Angels) and Johnson-Deming (St) vs. Laura Finn-Cassy Finn (Delano), 8 a.m. Consolation finals at 11:30 a.m.