ST. PETER - Emma Barnd's lateral movement was perfect as she planted her feet on the Swanson Tennis Center's playing surface and unleashed a swift overhead winner.
The eighth-grade phenom's match-winning smash netted the pivotal third team point to help engineer the top-seeded United South Central Rebels' down-to-the-wire 4-3 triumph over the No. 2-seeded Blue Earth Area Bucs in the Section 2A team tennis championship meet on Monday in St. Peter.
USC (20-2) advances to face the Section 8 champion at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, in the Class A state team quarterfinals at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
WORKING IN?SYNCH — Blue Earth Area second doubles player Paige Darrington (left) smashes a short return near the net as playing partner Beka Krussow watches the action Monday during Section 2A team semifinal tennis action at the Swanson Tennis Center on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)
Blue Earth Area ended the team portion of its season with a 14-6 record and the program's first runner-up sectional finish in more than a decade.
"We almost, almost, pulled off the victory today," said Buc mentor Terry Barnes. "Our strategy nearly worked - nearly.
"I am proud of the fact that our kids gave it all they had out there on the courts today."
Barnd and sophomore third doubles partner Kelly Neubauer, however, thwarted Blue Earth Area's legitimate chance at avenging a 5-2 regular-season loss to USC on Sept. 10.
"Those two (Barnd and Neubauer) were the comeback queens of the court today," said third-year Rebel head coach Jill Bailey. "They were down 2-5 to Jordan in our semifinal match earlier today and came back to close out our 7-0 win.
"Then they were down 2-5 in the second set of the championship match and made another incredible comeback to win a key point for us against Blue Earth (Area)."
USC held a 2-1 edge in the team ledger, but BEA led in two of the other three matches still on the Swanson Tennis Center's courts, and the Bucs' third doubles combination of Anikka Wilhelmi and Annaliese Klinkner gaining ground on Neubauer and Barnd in Set 2.
After Barnd and Neubauer won the first set by a hard-fought 7-5 decision, Wilhelmi and Klinkner - who did not play together at doubles in the Bucs' 5-2 semifinal win over Sibley East - built a 5-2 lead in the second set during the sectional finale.
"They had no idea what the team score was at the time or how important their point was, so they didn't get nervous and just made another nice comeback," Bailey said in reference to Barnd and Neubauer.
USC's third doubles combination won four of the next five games to create a second-set tiebreaker. Barnd and Neubauer built a 5-1 lead by the changeover before Barnd's overhead smash swung a 3-1 lead to the Rebels in the team scoring.
BEA's first doubles tandem of Natali Fellows and Karli Olsen then posted back-to-back 7-5 set wins over Joyce Rubio and Angela Bixby to reduce USC's team edge to 3-2.
Claire Christian, however, sealed the Rebels' first girls tennis team state appearance since 2007 by downing Karleigh Wolff at No. 1 singles via back-to-back 6-1 set decisions.
Kaitlyn Olsen produced the Bucs' final team tally of the dual meet by outslugging Linsey Thisius at No. 2 singles, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), in a battle of outstanding groundstrokes.
USC grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the championship showdown as Julia Stenzel netted back-to-back 6-0 set wins over Kali Viland at fourth singles before Kia Legred captured a 6-2, 6-0 decision over Lindsey Prokop at the third spot in the singles bracket.
BEA countered as Beka Krussow and Paige Darrington combined court skills at No. 2 doubles to generate a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Carly Weber and Leah Meyer.
Blue Earth Area and United South Central open the Section 2A Individual Meet at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Swanson Tennis Center on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter.
2013 Section 2A Team Meet Championship
At Swanson Tennis Center
At Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter
USC 4, B.E. Area 3
Singles: Claire Christian (USC) d. Karleigh Wolff, 6-1, 6-1. Kaitlyn Olsen (BEA) d. Linsey Thisius, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5). Kia Legred (USC) d. Lindsey Prokop, 6-2, 6-0. Julia Stenzel (USC) d. Kali Viland, 6-0, 6-0.
Doubles: Natali Fellows-Karli Olsen (BEA) d. Joyce Rubio-Angela Bixby, 7-5, 7-5. Beka Krussow-Paige Darrington (BEA) d. Carly Weber-Leah Meyer, 6-2, 6-1. Kelly Neubauer-Emma Barnd (USC) d. Anikka Wilhelmi-Annaliese Klinkner, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).
B.E. Area 5, Sibley East 2
Singles: Breann Walsh (SE) d. Karleigh Wolff, 6-2, 6-2. Kaitlyn Olsen (BEA) d. Mariah Schrupp, 6-1, 6-0. Lindsey Prokop (BEA) d. Ella Lundstrom, 6-3, 6-1. Anikka Wilhelmi (BEA) d. Kim Kurtzweg, 6-2, 6-2.
Doubles: Natali Fellows-Karli Olsen (BEA) d. Alli Harter-Alicia Kranz, 6-2, 6-1. Beka Krussow-Paige Darrington (BEA) d. Ashley Mercier-Faith Young, 6-3, 6-4. Elizabeth Thies-Lindsey Flieth (SE) d. Kali Viland-Annaliese Klinkner, 6-4, 6-3.