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Joseph caps No. 7 Fairmont’s comeback win over No. 8 St. James Area

STRETCHED-OUT RETURN — Fairmont Cardinals second singles player Briana Joseph stretches out to track down a shot for a backhand return near the end line during a Big South Conference dual tennis meet against St. James Area on Monday night at the Cardinal Courts in Fairmont. Joseph rallied for a third-set tiebreaker victory to propel Fairmont to a 4-3 team triumph over St. James Area. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Class A No. 7-ranked Fairmont rallied to capture three of four three-set marathon tennis matches to fend off the No. 8 St. James Area Saints, 4-3, under the Cardinal Courts’ lights on Monday night.

The Cardinals’ Briana Joseph produced the 4-hour meet’s winning point on the strength of a third-set tiebreaker triumph at second singles, while fourth singles teammate Abi Peyman assembled a three-set comeback victory to net the pivotal equalizing point at 3-all in Fairmont.

“I love to both play and coach the game, but I think just watching it can be a bit nerve-racking, especially in a down-to-the-wire one like this,” said a fidgeting Fairmont assistant coach Tim Slama along the sideline.

Every Fairmont and St. James Area fan sat quietly subdued, transfixed on the final and determining match under the facility’s east-end bank of lights.

Joseph rallied from a 4-3 opening-set deficit to the Saints’ Sailor Mohlenbrock to post a 6-4 victory before the St. James Area senior netter answered with a good-to-the-last-shot 7-6 (7-3) second-set comeback win to knot the decisive team point at one set apiece.

Mohlenbrock stormed out to a 5-1 lead in the third set, but Joseph steadily chipped away at her deficit to close within 5-2 and later, 5-4. The Fairmont senior singles player battled through a pair of deuces to even the match at 5-all before drilling a backhand winner to the right corner to cap an incredible five-game winning streak at 6-5.

Mohlenbrock, however, displayed her mettle by bouncing back for a win in Game 12 to force a deciding tiebreaker for the final team point.

Joseph and Mohlenbrock battled to ties at 2-all, 3 and 4 before the Cardinal senior standout worked a right-to-left shot strategy to grab a 5-4 edge.

Joseph then utilized a forehand chip shot to net a 6-4 advantage before connecting on a forehand cross-court winner to ice Fairmont’s 4-3 cardiac comeback.

“I just played one point at a time, and one ball at a time,” Joseph said in reference to her philosophy when trailing 5-1 in the third set. “It really did help to have my teammates in the bleachers cheering me on when we switched over to the courts under the lights.

“It was a great situation to play in — a big match in a big meet under the lights during my senior year.”

“You have to give her (Mohlenbrock) and St. James (Area) credit for playing great tennis against us today,” added Joseph.

Trailing 3-2 on the team ledger, Peyman rallied from an early 2-1 third-set deficit against the Saints’ Lily Ciske at fourth singles.

Peyman recorded a key service break to grab a 3-2 lead before connecting for a pair of forehand winners to garner a 5-2 margin. Ciske, however, rebounded to net a break of her own to whittle Peyman’s advantage to 5-4 before the Cardinal singles netter rallied in Game 10. Peyman delivered a perfect backhand drop shot to cap her 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory and even the team totals to 3 apiece.

Libby Totzke and Hope Klanderud also assembled a third-set comeback at No. 2 doubles to capture Fairmont’s second team tally.

St. James Area’s Alexis Brekken and Mykela Hanson fended off Libby Totzke and Klanderud in their opening set 7-5. Totzke and Klanderud narrowed an early 4-0 gap in the opening segment, and carried that momentum into the second set to earn a 6-2 victory.

Totzke and Klanderud then synchronized their court skills to a tee in the third set, building leads of 3-0 and 4-1 en route to the 6-1 victory.

Maggy Totzke started off the Cardinals’ point-producing with a bang, but without sipping the energy drink by the same name. The Fairmont senior third singles player needed the minimum dozen games to shut out Maya Kulseth to claim the home team’s initial point.

St. James Area senior Jaelyn Haler, who holds the No. 9 spot in the Class A individual state tennis rankings, pounded out back-to-back 6-0 set wins over Claire Nemmers during action at the No. 1 singles position.

“That match was closer than the final score indicated. There were some long rallies and overall, a lot of good points played in that match,” Slama said in reference to the Haler–Nemmers clash.

The Saints’ Mariah Mireles and Eva Romsdahl teamed at third doubles to post back-to-back 6-3 set wins over the Cardinals’ Anika Haugen and Johanna Petschke, while Allison Bluedorn and Keyana Haler claimed St. James Area’s only three-set win at the No. 1 position in the doubles bracket. Bluedorn and Haler netted a 6-3 first-set decision before Fairmont’s Ellie Hernes and Lauren Davis rebounded for a hard-fought 7-6 (9-7) second-set win to force a third segment.

Bluedorn and Haler prevailed down the stretch for a 6-3 triumph over Hernes and Davis in the third and decisive set.

Fairmont (10-1) travels to Waseca today, while St. James Area (11-5) plays host to Redwood Valley tonight in St. James.

Blue Earth Area 6, United South Central 1 — The Bucs swept the singles bracket to pace a 6-1 nonconference victory over the Rebels on Monday night in Wells.

Addison Armstrong posted a 6-1, 6-2 decision over Kelsie Chapman at No. 1 singles for BEA, while the Bucs’ Marissa Benz coasted to back-to-back 6-0 set triumphs over Lauren Hansen at second singles.

Kylie Rosenau pounded out a 6-1, 6-2 third singles win over Brylee Niebauer for the Bucs, while Lauren Survis pocketed a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Olivia Bungum during No. 4 singles action.

The Bucs’ Olivia Dutton and Grace Hanson combined court skills at No. 1 doubles to defeat Maya Zebro and Macy Zebro, while the second doubles combination of Allie Lopez and Ella Survis outlasted USC’s Elizabeth Romano and Maya Hansen in a supertiebreaker, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), (10-4).

Brooklyn Yokiel and Addison Mithun generated the Rebels’ only team tally via a 7-5, 6-4 win over Carol Schrader and Karissa Lopez at third doubles.

Blue Earth Area (8-1) travels to Sleepy Eye today to face River Valley.

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