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Area trio net state individual tennis bids

TWO-HANDED BACKHAND — Fairmont singles player Claire Nemmers connects on a return during Wednesday’s Section 3A Individual tennis meet at the Swanson Tennis Center on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter. Nemmers went on to qualify for the Class A individual state competition. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

ST. PETER — For one half of Blue Earth Area’s sectional finals-qualifying doubles team, advancing to the state individual tennis meet has become almost routine.

For Fairmont’s first individual state qualifier since 2013, advancing to the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis is a dream come true.

Fairmont sophomore Claire Nemmers had the unenviable task of defeating Cardinal teammate Briana Joseph in a true-second challenge match to earn her first-ever state individual tennis bid Wednesday during Day 2 of the Section 3A competition at the Swanson Tennis Center on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter.

“Ever since I was 2 years old when I first started playing tennis with my dad (Troy) in our driveway, I’ve been waiting for this moment, and it finally happened,” said the 15-year-old Claire Nemmers. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to represent our team and our school at the state tournament.”

Nemmers and sectional champion Vanessa Barkosky of Maple River open the Class A state singles state meet at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 24 at the Reed-Sweatt tennis facility, while sectional doubles champions Te’a Armstrong and Arika Howard of Blue Earth Area will join section runners-up Jaelyn Haler and Ellie Becker of St. James Area at 10 a.m. Oct. 24 in the opening round of the Class A individual state competition.

“This is my third time in a row of qualifying for state tennis as an individual, and each time has definitely been different,” said Armstrong, who combined with Julia Hanson to net a doubles berth in 2017 before garnering a state singles bid a year ago. “I normally play (No. 1) singles for us in the team portion of the sectional playoffs, so I have to make some adjustments in my overall strategy when I switch to doubles for individuals.”

Armstrong and Howard generated back-to-back 6-2 set victories over Maple River’s Abby Bruegger and Olivia Pfeffer during Wednesday’s sectional semifinals before rallying for a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 triumph over SJA’s Haler and Becker in the championship clash.

“We just stayed positive and focused on one of our biggest dreams of going to the (individual) state tournament together,” said Howard, who will make her individual state debut in two weeks. “It took a few games for us to get used to using the doubles alleys after mostly playing (Nos. 1 and 3) singles during the regular season.”

After flip-flopping 6-2 decisions in the first two sets of the doubles finals, Haler and Becker pounded their way to a 4-3 lead over Armstrong and Howard in the third set. Armstrong’s angled offspeed winners and Howard’s blast-it-past forehand flurries triggered a three-game run to cap a 6-4 comeback win.

Haler and Becker then punched their ticket to state by fending off a true-second challenge by Bruegger and Pfeffer, 6-3, 6-1. Bruegger and Pfeffer garnered the sectional bronze medals by outslugging Blue Earth Area’s McKenna Dutton and Macie Stevermer in the third-place match, 6-4, 6-3.

Dutton and Stevermer opened Wednesday by losing a 6-4, 6-1 semifinal doubles decision to Haler and Becker.

In sectional singles play, Nemmers rallied from a 6-1 opening-set loss to St. James Area’s Luci Kulseth during Wednesday’s semifinals. The hard-working Kulseth knotted the second set at 4-all with a key service break, but Nemmers broke back en route to a 6-4 win.

Kulseth broke early in the third set and led 4-3 before experiencing fatigue and knee tightness during the latter stages of their 3 1/2-hour marathon clash. Nemmers withstood another Kulseth break at 5-all before using a forehand passing winner to close out the 7-5 third-set win.

Barkosky, who qualified for the individual state singles meet in 2016 and 2017, coasted to back-to-back 6-1 set wins over Nemmers in the gold-medal match.

“That was my goal this season — get back to state after not qualifying a year ago,” said Barkosky, who defeated Nemmers during the regular season and the team portion of the sectional meet.

Nemmers then had to bounce back to fend off Cardinal teammate Briana Joseph’s true-second challenge in the final match on the Swanson Tennis Center’s courts on Wednesday.

“It’s a difficult dilemma to have teammates play for a state bid, but I guess on the other hand it’s nice to have both of your players competing for state,” said Fairmont head coach Eric Johnson.

Nemmers defeated the fleet-footed Joseph — who experienced some mobility-reducing fatigue in the second set — in the true-second challenge match, 6-1, 6-0. Joseph defeated Kulseth, 6-2, 6-3, in the third-place match to capture the section’s bronze singles medal.

Barkosky opened Wednesday’s semifinals by serving a 6-0, 6-2 loss to Joseph.

Section 3A Individual

Tennis Tournament

Singles Bracket

Semifinals: Vanessa Barkosky (Maple River) def. Briana Joseph (Fairmont) 6-0, 6-2. Claire Nemmers (Fairmont) def. Luci Kulseth (St. James Area) 1-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Championship: Barkosky def. Nemmers, 6-1, 6-1. True 2nd: Nemmers def. Joseph, 6-1, 6-0. 3rd Place: Joseph def. Kulseth, 6-2, 6-3.

Doubles Bracket

Semifinals: Te’a Armstrong-Arika Howard (Blue Earth Area) def. Abby Bruegger-Olivia Pfeffer (Maple River) 6-2, 6-2. Ellie Becker-Jaelyn Haler (St. James Area) def. McKenna Dutton-Macie Stevermer (Blue Earth Area) 6-4, 6-1.

Championship: Armstrong-A. Howard def. Becker-Haler, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. True 2nd: Becker-Haler def. Bruegger-Pfeffer, 6-3, 6-1. 3rd Place: Bruegger-Pfeffer def. Dutton-Stevermer, 6-4, 6-3.

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