Lourdes, Stewartville tennis

Clare Palen of Lourdes returns a shot during her match against Chloe Regal of Stewartville during the Section 1A tennis championship dual on Monday at the Rochester Recreation Center. Lourdes won 7-0 to advance to the Class A state tournament for the 24th consecutive year. (Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

The skills, the mental toughness and all the winning that has come with it from Clare Palen has been nice for the Rochester Lourdes girls tennis team.

It’s helped them be a top-five team in the state ever since the senior joined the varsity as a seventh-grader.

But it’s not just Palen’s physical and mental attributes from Palen that mean so much to the Eagles, who advanced to the state tournament for the 24th straight year on Monday.

It is also how the quietly confident Palen presents herself, on and off the court.

She helped Lourdes beat Winona Cotter 7-0 in the Section 1A semifinals at the Rochester Athletic Club, and Stewartville 7-0 in the finals.

“Clare is so calm, and she is always encouraging all of us players,” Lourdes junior and fellow standout Jane Spading said. “Plus, her game is so good.”

Good enough that Palen has lost just three matches in three years, including none this season. A two-time defending state doubles champion and ranked No. 2 in the state in singles behind defending champion Arlina Shen of Blake, Palen is so advanced that challenges have been few and far between for her during the regular season.

All of it has led her teammates to see her in a unique light.

“Clare is amazing, on and off the court,” Lourdes junior and No. 1 doubles player Sydney Elliott said. “She is always there to talk to about our tennis games or anything else. I’d love to have some of her game. If I could have one aspect, it would be her killer shot down the line.”

Palen did her usual stuff on Monday, losing just one game in two matches. But she always wants to do more than just play well. There is all the other stuff to deliver on, too. Her teammates need her, she knows it, and she embraces it.

“I like being a role model in how I play and how I work,” Palen said. “And last night, I told our team not to let anything get in their heads with the (section semifinals and finals). We’ve beaten all of these team and I just wanted to remind them of that.”

The Eagles listened, as always.

“Every player always looks up to someone who is as good as Clare is,” Lourdes coach David Pettengill said. “When someone plays that well, they are always a leader by example. People watch your habits and what you do to be so good.”

Section 1A teams continue to watch not just Palen, but this entire Lourdes tennis program. Ranked third in the state behind Blake and Breck, the Eagles’ section competition still has miles to go to catch them.

There were no challenges for 15-2 Lourdes again on Monday. With it, it is once again storming to the Oct. 22-23 state tournament at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis. After 23 straight years of having been there, they know the place well. And none of them knows it better than Palen, the Eagles’ go-to girl who’s going for the sixth straight year.

SEMIFINALS

Stewartville 5, Lake City 2

Singles: Miah Mikel (S) def. Emma Brunkow 6-1, 6-0; Chloe Regal (S) def. Renae Harvey 6-3, 6-2; Sarah Ziebarth (LC) def. Sydney Becker 6-3, 6-3; Katrina McCluskey (S) def. Madeline Medvec 6-2, 6-0. Doubles: Ava Wallerich/Kaylee Muenzhuber (LC) def. Tessa Lanzel/Samantha Koenigs 7-5, 6-3; Madelyn Timm/Kendall Clausen (S) def. Molly Kennedy/Dorothy Holland 6-2, 4-6, 6-3; Kylie Jakobson/Addison Manley (S) def. Olivia Morrisey/Allison Weinrich 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

Lourdes 7, Cotter 0

Singles: Clare Palen (L) def. Hannah Graff 6-0, 6-1; Jane Spading (L) def. Ella Leaf 6-1, 6-0; Ryann Witter (L) def. Elanna Kohner 6-0, 6-0; Caroline Daly (L) def. Grace Renk 6-0, 6-2. Doubles: Elyse Palen/Sydney Elliott (L) def. Anna Piechowski/Anna Schnitzer 6-1, 6-0; Karin Hayford/Melissa Stocker (L) def. Olivia Moore/Viva Graff 6-0, 6-0; Annabel Boughey/Hannah/Roth (L) def. Zernke/Zheng 6-0, 6-0.

FINALS

Lourdes 7, Stewartville 0

Singles: Clare Palen (L) def. Regal 6-0, 6-0; Spading (L) def. Sydney Becker 6-0, 6-0; Witter (L) def. Clausen 6-1, 6-0; Daly (L) def. McCluskey 7-5, 6-4. Doubles: Palen/Elliott (L) def. Mikel/Lanzel 6-1, 6-3; Hayford/Stocker (L) def. Koenigs/Timm 6-0, 6-0; Boughey/Roth def. Payton Maas/Manley 6-4, 6-1.

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Sports Reporter

Pat covers tennis, girls basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and baseball. He also writes about Gophers football and basketball, and the Timberwolves. He’s been reporting for the Post Bulletin since 1994.