Girls tennis: Lourdes meets its match in powerful Blake
MINNEAPOLIS – Lourdes used to be what Blake is now. That is, the undisputed girls tennis power in state Class A.
MINNEAPOLIS — Rochester Lourdes used to be what Blake is now.
That is, the undisputed girls tennis power in the state in Class A.
In fact, the Bears might be even better than that.
"Yeah, I'd stack our team right now against any team (Class A or AA) in the state," Blake coach Mike Ach said. "It helps to have high-end talent."
Where there is no dispute is where Blake stacks up in Class A. The Bears are tops, and it's by a lot. Lourdes was at the receiving end of all that high-end talent late Wednesday afternoon in the state championship dual, as the Bears stormed to a 6-1 win.
It gave Blake its second straight tennis title and its third in the last five years.
Lourdes — at least historically — can relate. The Eagles had a stretch not so long ago when it won 12 consecutive state girls tennis championships.
But now, this is Blake's time.
"They have a lot of kids who are taking lessons all the time and playing in lots of USTA tournaments," Lourdes coach David Pettengill said. "We have some of that, but I wish we had more who did it."
Lourdes tried to shift its lineup in hopes of staying at least in the vicinity of Blake. Pettengill moved a number of his top players to doubles, including his top one, Clare Palen.
There were mixed results there. Palen and teammate Natalie Allison missed out at No. 1 doubles, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Lainey Axell and Sophie Skallerud.
But at No. 2 doubles, usual doubles mates Sydney Allison and Ellen Gorman did emerge a winner. They downed Sarah Juang and Abbie Nelson 4-6, 6-2, 10-8.
It was a sweet way for Sydney Allison and Gorman to go out. Both are seniors.
"It's very satisfying to end your year like that, with a win," Allison said. "We kept fighting and made almost all of our returns."
Lourdes has a relatively young team, with just three seniors. That leaves such players as sophomore Natalie Allison eager for more, and hoping for even better results in the future.
Not that she was complaining about what happened this year. No. 3-ranked Lourdes, which beat Virginia 4-3 in the semifinals, ended its year 16-2 and second in the state.
"We want to keep getting better and to build on this," Natalie Allison said. "We need to be playing year-round tennis."
Alexa Palen goes green
It felt like yesterday to Alexa Palen that she was at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center, helping Lourdes to five Class A state team championships in six years and winning two state titles in singles and one in doubles.
Well, sort of like yesterday.
"It seems like not very long ago — and a long time ago — all at the same time," said Palen, a 2009 Lourdes graduate.
Wednesday she was at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center wearing a green warmup jacket. Green is the school color of her new team, Blake, where she has worked this season as an assistant girls tennis coach.
Not a bad "get" for Blake. Palen goes down as the best player that Lourdes has ever had. And the Eagles have had loads of them, including Palen's three older sisters, Lindsey, Jill and Alyssa. After graduating from Lourdes, Alexa spent four standout seasons playing for the University of Minnesota.
As much as the Blake tennis program has been blessed with Palen's presence, it's also been a great fit for her. She spends her days working for Ameriprise Financial Services in downtown Minneapolis, then cruises over to Blake practices.
It's been a fine way for the 25-year-old to finish her days.
"I love it," Palen said. "It's great to get to practice and hit with the girls and coach them. These (Blake) girls are not only great tennis players, but great people, and always so happy."
Still, there was the matter of Wednesday's potential awkwardness. Just what was it like coaching against her old team, Lourdes, whose top player is Alexa's second cousin, Clare Palen?
Turns out it was no problem — mostly.
"It felt a little odd," Alexa said with a smile. "But not too bad."
Lourdes 4, Virginia 3
Singles: Clare Palen (L) def. Anna Seitz 6-0, 6-0; Natalie Allison (L) def. Ava Warren 6-0, 6-0; Grace Paulsen (V) def. Molly Belda 6-0, 7-5; Jane Spading (L) def. Mary Scorch 6-4, 6-0. Doubles:Sydney Allison/Ellen Gorman (L) def. Callie Mauston/Alex Saxhaug 6-0, 6-3; Amelia Cope-Robinson/Cassie Cornell (V) def. Anna Clayton/Stephanie Petersen 6-4, 6-1; Caleece Myhre/Katie Scherf (V) def. Kelly Kowal/Sydney Elliott 6-0, 6-1.
Blake 6, Lourdes 1
Singles: Libby Rickeman (B) def. Stephanie Petersen 6-0, 6-0; Arlina Shen (B) def. Jane Spading 6-0, 6-0; Sobia Baig (B) def. Sydney Elliott 6-1, 6-0; Bella Suk (B) def. Catherine Patel 6-1, 6-0. Doubles:Lainey Axell/Sophie Skallerud (B) def. Clare Palen/Natalie Allison 6-4, 6-4; Sydney Allison/Ellen Gorman (L) def. Sarah Juang/Abbie Nelson 4-6, 6-2,10-8; Caroline Cameron/Emily Melin (B) def. Molly Belda/Anna Clayton 6-1, 6-4.