ST. PETER — State team qualifiers for the first time in two and a half decades.
Abi Peyman rallied for a three-set victory at fourth singles to cap the Class A No. 6-ranked Fairmont Cardinals’ 4-3 triumph over the No. 7-ranked St. James Area Saints for the Section 2A team tennis championship Thursday at the Swanson Indoor Tennis Center on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus.
Fairmont (18-2), the Big South Conference champion, will deliver its first serve in 25 years in the Class A state team competition on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis. The quarterfinal dual meet, against an opponent to be determined, will take place at either 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon or 2 p.m.
Ironically, the cardiac Cardinals achieved a rarity by running the seasonal gamut via four consecutive 4-3 winning decisions over the perennial powerhouse Saints.
“We stuck with the lineup that helped us win 17 dual meets prior to the sectional finals and the Big South championship this season,” said Fairmont assistant coach Tim Slama. “It’s as simple as that.”
St. James Area head coach Les Zellmann opted for his second of three possible lineups in the sectional finale, and once again, fell one team point shy.
“We had to try a different lineup today because we hadn’t been able to beat Fairmont during our previous three meetings,” a grinning Zellmann said. “Our girls pressed them right down to the seventh and final match, but just couldn’t get that fourth point.
“I’m proud of the effort that all of our girls gave us today.”
“My heart was nearly pounding out of my chest during the last match,” said Fairmont head coach Laura Olsen. “What a great effort by each and every one of our girls today.”
Peyman, only a sophomore, however, seemed to thrive off the pressure of the sectional championship’s outcome resting on her broad shoulders.
St. James Area sophomore Alexis Brekken, who played No. 2 doubles during the Saints’ 5-2 semifinal victory over Blue Earth Area earlier Thursday, posted a 6-4 opening-set victory over Peyman and built a 3-0 lead in the second segment.
The hard-hitting Peyman answered by reeling off game wins in four of the next six games to close her deficit to Brekken to 5-4. The Cardinals’ comeback kid strung together three more wins in a row to capture the second set, 7-5, to force a decisive third set — the last of three during the sectional finale.
“I began looking around (the indoor bubble) and noticed most of my teammates were off the court, so I guessed that maybe the meet would come down to my match,” said Peyman. “This entire team has worked so hard to get here, so I wasn’t going to let them down.
“I kind of like having pressure on me in that type of situation, and feeling the stress of the crowd.”
Peyman fed off the emotional electricity among the Cardinal faithful at the indoor tennis center — in addition to pretzels and fruit leather — during the changeover and stormed out of the gate to a 3-0 lead over Brekken in the third set.
Brekken, however, battled back to net a service break to narrow the gap to 3-2 before Peyman elevated her level of play to reel off three consecutive wins to propel the Fairmont girls tennis program to the Class A state team competition.
Maggy Totzke and Briana Joseph staked the Cardinals to a quick 2-0 lead on the sectional team ledger from the Nos. 3 and 2 positions in the singles bracket. Maggy Totzke collected Fairmont’s initial tally via back-to-back 6-0 set victories over Maya Kulseth, while Joseph delivered a 6-0, 6-1 decision over Mykela Hanson.
The Saints, however, countered when Sailor Mohlenbrock and Allison Bluedorn outslugged the Cardinals’ Ellie Hernes and Lauren Davis at No. 1 doubles in a good-to-the-last-shot 7-5, 6-4 clash.
St. James Area senior Jaelyn Haler, who’s ranked individually in the top 10 in Class A, then lived up to her lofty billing by posting back-to-back 6-1 set wins over the hard-hitting Claire Nemmers at No. 1 singles.
Knotted at 2-all, Anika Haugen and Johanna Petschke outlasted Mika Wessels and Mariah Mireles in one of the finale’s three three-setters. Ironically, the Saints and Cardinals battled to a record six three-set matches in the Big South Conference championship meet.
Haugen and Petschke rebounded from an early 4-3 first-set deficit with a pivotal break to eventually garner a 7-5 victory.
Wessels and Mireles, however, rallied for a 6-0 second-set decision before Haugen and Petschke caught their collective second wind. The Cardinals’ No. 3 tandem delivered a 6-3 third-set win to inch the red-and-white ahead 3-2 on the team ledger.
The Saints’ Keyana Haler and Eva Romsdahl then reversed the course of their second doubles match with Libby Totzke and Hope Klanderud. Haler and Romsdahl claimed the opening set by a 6-3 decision before Libby Totzke and Klanderud countered with a 6-1 second-set win. Haler and Romsdahl transformed a 3-2 deficit in the third set into a 4-3 edge on the strength of a service break en route to a 6-4 victory to even the championship meet at 3-all.
Fairmont, St. James Area, Blue Earth Area and River Valley — all sectional team semifinalists — return to compete in the Section 2A Individual Meet at 9 a.m. today back at the Swanson Indoor Tennis Center in St. Peter.
Section 2A Team Meet
Fairmont 4, St. James Area 3
• Jaelyn Haler (SJA) def. Claire Nemmers, 6-1, 6-1.
• Briana Joseph (FMT) def. Mykela Hanson, 6-0, 6-1.
• Maggy Totzke (FMT) def. Maya Kulseth, 6-0, 6-0.
• Abi Peyman (FMT) def. Alexis Brekken, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
• Sailor Mohlenbrock-Allison Bluedorn (SJA) def. Lauren Davis-Ellie Hernes, 7-5, 6-4.
• Keyana Haler-Eva Romsdahl (SJA) def. Libby Totzke-Hope Klanderud, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4.
• Anika Haugen-Johanna Petschke (FMT) def. Mika Wessels-Mariah Mireles, 7-5, 0-6, 6-3.
Fairmont 6, River Valley 1
• Claire Nemmers (FMT) def. Brooklyn Moldan, 7-5, 6-1.
• Kaydince Thoms (RV) def. Briana Joseph, 2-6, 6-1, (10-8).
• Maggy Totzke (FMT) def. Taylor Berkner, 6-2, 6-0.
• Abi Peyman (FMT) def. Courtlyn Runck, 6-2, 6-0.
• Ellie Hernes-Lauren Davis (FMT) def. Maya Nelson-Erika Lozano, 6-4, 6-0.
• Libby Totzke-Hope Klanderud (FMT) def. Brissa Hernandez-Alexis Garza, 6-0, 6-0.
• Anika Haugen-Johanna Petschke (FMT) def. Sydne Wahl-Kiera Lafferty, 6-0, 6-3.
St. James Area 5, Blue Earth Area 2
• Jaelyn Haler (SJA) def. Marissa Benz, 6-1, 6-0.
• Sailor Mohlenbrock (SJA) def. Addison Armstrong, 6-3, 1-6, 6-0.
• Kylie Rosenau (BEA) def. Eva Romsdahl, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1.
• Olivia Dutton (BEA) def. Maya Kulseth, 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-4).
• Keyana Haler-Allison Bluedorn (SJA) def. Grace Hanson-Allie Lopez, 6-2, 6-1.
• Mykela Hanson-Alexis Brekken (SJA) def. Ella Survis-Lauren Survis, 6-4, 3-6, (11-9).
• Mika Wessels-Mariah Mireles (SJA) def. Carol Schrader-Ashlyn Klinkner, 6-1, 6-1.