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Mayo does it again: 8 straight section titles

Mayo's Sutton Julsrud returns the ball to Lakeville South's Michaella Sullivan during the Section 1AA Championship Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at Mayo High School in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

If the Rochester Mayo girls tennis team develops in the next few years as its insiders believe it will, there will be four current seniors to thank.

They are Tayor Julsrud, Grace Ackerman, Ani Bulbulian and Molly Pickering, doubles players all on this year’s team.

The tone that foursome set was unlike any in recent memory for longtime Spartans coach Jeff Demaray.

“That is the hardest working set of senior girls that I can remember,” Demaray said. “The example they have set has been incredible. They’ve put so much time into tennis. I cannot express enough what great leaders they’ve been.”

What that leadership led to on Wednesday was Mayo hauling off with its eighth straight Section 1AA team title and its 24th in the last 25 years.

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The Spartans romped in singles as they beat Lakeville South 5-2 in the finals at the Mayo courts. South had beaten Century 4-3 in Monday’s semifinals.

It left Mayo with a perfect 15-0 record in this COVID-19 shortened year, with no culminating state tournament coming next due to the pandemic.

It also left the Spartans thinking ahead to next year and beyond, all while honoring Julsrud, Ackerman, Bulbulian and Pickering.

“It is going to be different without them,” said No. 2 singles player Sutton Julsrud, a junior and the younger sister of Taylor. “We are going to miss them so much. They are the best captains that you could hope for. They are always giving speeches before every match and helping us.”

It wasn’t any of those seniors who got wins against Lakeville South, which was atypical of them. Taylor Julsrud and Ackerman lost at No. 1 doubles and Bulbulian and Pickering at No. 2.

But no matter. They’d had way too much to do with the performances of the rest of the Mayo crew to push their section title influence aside.

They allowed girls such as No. 1 singles player and eighth-grader Claire Loftus to have a sense of belonging. They made playing on the Mayo tennis team special.

“My team made this a very fun year despite all the challenges (of playing during a pandemic),” said Loftus, one of the state’s most budding stars. She beat Reese Burton 6-0, 6-1 in her match Wednesday.

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Mayo’s win, which came against a Lakeville South team that had beaten powerful Century 4-3 on Monday, had the Spartans thinking ahead.

Yes, Sutton Julsrud will be the only senior on the team next year, but there is still a load of talent returning and arriving. Among the new arrivals figures to be Claire Loftus’ seventh-grade sister, Aoife, who is ranked No. 1 in her age group in the USTA Northern Section (Minnesota, western Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota). Her influence could make Mayo’s singles lineup off the charts.

Claire Loftus (No. 1 singles), Sutton Julsrud (No. 2), Nandini Iyer (No. 3) and Audrey Aney (No. 4) are all underclassmen this year. All came away winners against Lakeville South and all figure to be even better next season.

That bodes well for what Mayo is ultimately after in the next few years. That is a Class AA team championship, which would be a first in Mayo girls tennis.

Senior Taylor Julsrud loves the possibilities for next year’s team.

“This team will have so much potential,” she said. “I am so proud of them, and I think they can do anything they want in their tennis careers. I think they can be super strong, especially in singles. They’ll all work hard no matter what.”

Mayo 5, Lakeville South 2

Singles: Claire Loftus (M) def. Reese Burton 6-0, 6-1; Sutton Julsrud (M) def. Michaella Sullivan 6-4, 6-1; Nandini Iyer (M) def. Nicole McKinney 6-2, 6-3; Audrey Aney (M) def. Riley Burton 6-2, 6-2. D oubles: Olivia Walker/Georgia Demil (LS) def. Taylor Julsrud/Grace Ackerman 6-3, 6-2; Eve Quick/Callie McDonald (LS) def Ani Bulbulian/Molly Pickering 6-4, 7-5; Jorden Ruskell/Keely Ryder (M) def. Macey Glad/Choe Hwong 6-2, 6-2.

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Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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