LAKEVILLE — Ancele Dolensek is worth noting for an eighth-grader.
Actually, the Century standout is attention getting for any age. Same thing for the girl she beat in the Section 1AA tennis singles finals Tuesday at Lifetime Fitness, Mayo’s Claire Loftus.
Loftus is a seventh-grader. The eighth-grader won out, claiming the section title 6-2, 7-6 (9-7 tie-breaker).
Yes, tennis looks to be in nice hands for the next several years, led by these two wonderkids.
“Claire is going to be a really good player,” Dolensek said. “She’s really good right now.”
If Loftus can make the jump that Dolensek made in a year, look out. The Panthers eighth-grader went from not advancing to the section semifinals a year ago when playing for John Marshall, to winning the section title Tuesday.
And she did it without even having her best stuff.
“I thought I played pretty average,” Dolensek said. “But on the tightest points of the match, I thought I did really well. I tend to play better when there’s more pressure. It helps me focus."
And how did Dolensek make such a big leap from last year, now headed to her first state individual tournament?
Well, by practicing of course, which has led to fewer mistakes.
“I think I have become more consistent,” she said. “I’m not so up and down. And I hit a bigger ball now.”
Her Century coach, Josh Heiden, appreciates Dolensek’s competitive approach above all. She used it to beat Mayo’s Sutton Julsrud 6-0, 6-2 in the semifinals, then to fight off four set points against Loftus.
Heiden says she’s got some inborn toughness.
“She’s incredible mentally tough,” Heiden said. “She focuses in a sharper way when the chips are down and she’s facing some adversity. She didn’t have her best stuff today, but she dug down deep and got it done.”
As for Loftus, Mayo coach Jeff Demaray says she’s the first Spartans seventh-grader to ever advance to state. The individual tournament is Oct. 24-25 at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center. The top two finishers from each section, in both singles and doubles, qualify for state.
Demaray was thrilled with Loftus’ play in the finals.
“She has really improved since the beginning of the year,” he said. “She’s playing some high quality tennis right now.”
SARGENT/BABER CHAMPS AGAIN
Two more players who seem on top of their games are the Century doubles tandem of Paige Sargent and Julia Baber.
They rolled to their second straight section title, beating the combination of Lakeville South’s Cora Anderson and Georgia Demi 6-1, 6-2 in the finals. That was after beating Mayo’s Deeya Patel and Ani Bulbulian 6-0, 6-2 in the semifinals.
Sargent and Baber are headed to their third straight state tournament together. Last year they landed fourth at state.
“When they are out there, you can just see the chemistry they’ve developed,” Heiden said. “They know where each other is and what the other can do. They’ve got a legitimate chance to make some noise at state. They want to get to the semis and do better than they did last year.”
Semifinals: Ancele Dolensek (Century) def. Sutton Julsrud (Mayo) 6-0, 6-2; Claire Loftus (Mayo) def. Anri Sakakibara (Hastings) 6-1, 6-1. Finals: Dolensek def. Loftus (Mayo) 6-2, 7-6 (9-7). Third place: Sakakibara (Hastings) def. Julsrud 6-4, 6-3.
Semifinals: Paige Sargent/Julia Baber (Century) def. Deeya Patel/Ani Bulbulian (Mayo) 6-0, 6-2; Cora Andersen/Georgia Demi (Lakeville South) def. Taylor Julsrud/Grace Ackerman (Mayo). Finals: Sargent/Baber def. Cora Andersen/Georgia Demi (Lakeville South) 6-1, 6-2. Third place: Patel/Bulbulian def. Julsrud/Ackerman. True second: Andersen/Demi def. Patel/Bulbulian 6-1, 6-3.