MINNEAPOLIS — After collecting conference and section titles and a fifth-place finish in the Class AA state team tournament, members of the Stillwater girls’ tennis team wrapped up a successful season while competing as individuals on Friday at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center.
Singles player Natalie Phippen ended her remarkable prep career with a fourth-place finish in her final state tournament appearance and Stillwater doubles team Savannah Johnson and Aliza Deming were stopped in the consolation semifinals.
“It was obviously an awfully rewarding year,” Ponies coach Dave Kahl said. “It is such a great bunch of girls and to win the consolation and to be playing until the last day was a great way to finish for the squad.”
Phippen, a senior who was making her fourth appearance at the individual state tournament — third time in singles — fell to Edina seventh-grader Sophia Reddy 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals and was defeated by Andover’s Faith Lee 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in the third-place match to finish her season with a 27-7 record.
Reddy, who played second singles for Edina’s state championship team but defeated the Hornets’ first singles player in the individual section tourney to qualify for state, lost to top-seeded Summer Brills of Mounds View 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-1 in the finals.
“The girl from Edina was a tough match-up,” Kahl said. “She just doesn’t make any mistakes and you really have to win points on her — anytime she got into trouble she’d lift a top-spin lob that fell two feet from the baseline every time. Natalie hit a bunch of winners, but just not enough. The score didn’t indicate, but it was actually a pretty long match because they had so many long games.”
The match for third place was more of a slugfest, with Lee — who also defeated Phippen in three sets during the consolation round at state a year ago — pulling out another three-set victory on Friday.
“It was a fun, entertaining match to watch,” Kahl said. “Both players were just swinging away and the other girl was just a little more consistent. Obviously Natalie was disappointed in the way it ended, but to finish fourth in the state is still pretty good.”
The loss also marked the conclusion of perhaps the most decorated girls’ tennis player at Stillwater for a program that dates back to 1972. Phippen, who also contributed to second-place finishes in the 4×200 and 4×400 relays at the state track meet last spring, played third singles as a seventh-grader on Stillwater’s most recent state qualifying team prior to returning this year to go along with three singles and one doubles appearances.
“As a coach, you come across this kind of player maybe once in a lifetime when you’re lucky,” Kahl said. “To be so instrumental and playing at such a high level for so many years, she’s elevated us into a contender every year. You take her out of our lineups and maybe it’s still pretty strong this year, but just having her elevates the whole team. Having a No. 1 or 2 singles player that is so rock solid helps you not just in match play, but practice play and the whole determination she plays with is something hopefully other girls see and try to emulate.”
After contributing to Stillwater’s deep and talented singles lineup this season, Johnson and Deming finished off their strong run as a doubles team while falling to Delano sisters Laura and Cassy Finn 6-4, 6-2 in the consolation semifinals. The Ponies lost to the eventual third-place finishers Meghan Herring and Kelly Reger of Edina in three sets in the first round.
“Those two really had a great run,” Kahl said. “Just to make it is something special. They played just an outstanding match that first day with Edina and they just played smart and consistent and used their athleticism. It was really fun tennis.”
The Finn sisters went on to capture the consolation title.
“It was a good team and those girls just played really solid tennis,” Kahl said. “(The Finns) were a little bit more comfortable doing some of the doubles things, but it was a good match and there were a lot of high quality points. I don’t think we played quite as consistent in that third match, but credit the girls from Delano, they hit the ball real well.”
The state experience should benefit the Ponies with Johnson, a freshman, and Deming, a junior, leading the way next fall.
“It was great experience and hopefully this just whets their appetite for more next year,” Kahl said. “Going in with a taste of it, that should hopefully be good inspiration for them.”
Semifinals — Sophia Reddy (Edina) def. Natalie Phippen (Stillwater) 6-3, 6-2; Summer Brills (Mounds View) def. Faith Lee (Andover) 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.
Third place — Lee (An) def. Phippen (St) 6-2, 6-1.
First place — Brills (MV) def. Reddy (Ed) 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-1.
Consolation semifinals — Laura Finn-Cassy Finn (Delano) def. Savannah Johnson-Aliza Deming (Stillwater) 6-4, 6-2.