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Lourdes girls tennis team does the improbable, beats Breck to win the state championship

The Lourdes girls tennis team turned things around completely in a few ways. And now the Eagles have their first state championship since 2010.

Lourdes photo.jpg
Lourdes doubles teammates on Wednesday, Ryann Witter, left, and Ellie Leise celebrate after winning their doubles match and the Eagles winning the state championship along with it. Lourdes beat No. 1-ranked Breck 4-3 in the Class A state final at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.
Pat Ruff / Post Bulletin
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MINNEAPOLIS — Ellie Leise didn’t begin playing tennis until a year ago.

The way she started out Wednesday afternoon in the biggest match of the Lourdes junior’s life resembled that. Leise had the look of a novice.

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Ground strokes she’d grown used to making this season were now being sent into the bottom of the net. Service returns — a problem for her at the beginning of the season — were suddenly a problem again. Even her overheads had become shaky.

Then, just like that, something happened. Leise came through with one of the more abrupt about-faces imaginable.

With it, two brilliantly played sets later, Leise and No. 1 doubles partner Ryann Witter — along with their Eagles teammates — were celebrating a 4-3 win over Breck and the school’s first state girls tennis championship since 2010.

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“This is surreal,” Leise said. “I can’t really believe that we just won a state championship. You hear about people doing it. But then you do it, and it’s unreal. It’s what I’ve wanted my entire life.”

It happened at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center against a team that Lourdes was not expected to beat, No. 1-ranked and defending Class A state champion Breck.

Lourdes had played the Mustangs once this season and lost, 5-2.

It looked like it was going to happen again. Lourdes pretty much knew going in that it was going to need a win at No. 1 doubles, where it had shifted the state’s No. 2-ranked player, Witter, in order to have a chance against Breck.

At No. 1 singles, Breck has Isabelle Einess, a heavy favorite to finish as individual state champion this season and someone who’d beaten Witter 6-0, 6-0 earlier this year.

So, Lourdes first-year coach Ben Maes made the move. He was pairing Witter and Leise and hoping for the best.

Everything else had worked out for Lourdes to spring the upset. Yes, Einess won at No. 1 singles, but other than that it was a singles sweep for the Eagles. Elyse Palen won at No. 2 singles, Erin Witter at No. 3 and Taylor Elliott at No. 4. All of those wins came in straight sets.

"We had a meeting before the match, and we knew that it was going to be close and we knew that every point would matter," Elliott said.

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Thanks to those crucial singles wins, Lourdes (19-3) had itself three points. But it needed a fourth. That’s because the Mustangs prevailed at No. 2 and 3 doubles.

That left Ryann Witter and Leise as the last hope remaining to bring home the championship. All eyes were on them in the end, their match the only one left on the courts.

The first set went as poorly as earlier described for Witter/Leise, Leise’s uneven play contributing to the Eagles’ being a decisive 6-1 loser in the first set.

Things didn’t look good for the Eagles.

However, Witter has a way about her. Not only is she the team’s undisputed top player, but also its No. 1 leader. She combines tennis insights with unending positivity.

She provided heavy doses of both just ahead of the second set.

“I’ve got to hand it to Ryann,” Leise said. “She gave me advice and built my confidence. She told me to start getting lower on my shots and told me how to improve my (service) returns.”

Maes had no doubt that Witter would say and do all the right things between sets.

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He’s come to know and admire her, like everybody else on this Lourdes team.

“I think Ryann had a lot to do with Ellie’s turnaround,” Maes said. “She was constantly pumping her up and telling her that everything would be OK. That’s what being a good teammate and being on a good team is all about.”

Lourdes’ No. 1 player was sure of one thing. There was no way she was about to give up on Leise or the idea that they could still finish as state champions.

She was just as sure that Leise was nowhere near giving up. She certainly got that right. Turned out that Leise went a long way toward helping out Witter, too.

“I knew that she would keep up her energy; I wasn’t worried about her,” Witter said. “She lifted me up and I lifted her up. That’s how it worked.”

And did it ever work. Leise, for the next two sets, could do almost no wrong. She was making everything and even saving Witter a few times along the way as the Lourdes star missed out on a handful of shots she’d normally put away.

But Leise kept volleys alive and also ended a bunch of with them powerful put-away shots at the net.

Witter and Leise won the second set 6-2. The third set also went the Eagles’ way. They won that one 6-4, the final game a marathon until Leise fittingly punctuated her resurrected play by smashing a volley for the match winner.

Witter and Leise had their win. And better still, Lourdes had its state championship. Against all odds.

It left Witter, the team’s No. 1, the kind of happy that she could previously only imagine.

“To do this in my senior year, it is just pure joy,” she said. “It’s what we’ve been working for all these years. I don’t have words for it. I just love this team so much.”

FINAL

Lourdes 4, Breck 3
Singles: Isabelle Einess (B) def. Caroline Daly 6-0, 6-0; Elyse Palen (L) def. Belae Huss 6-0, 6-1; Erin Witter (L) def. Belae Huss 6-0, 6-1; Erin Witter (L) def. Quinn Dougherty 6-2, 6-0; Taylor Elliott (L) def. Lily Ahluwalia 6-1, 6-2. Doubles: Ryann Witter/Ellie Leise (L) def. Petra Lyon/Witt Mehbod 1-6, 6-2, 6-4; Amelia Bras/Ava Jaffe (B) def. Kaydra Quimby/Taylor Seelhammer 6-0, 6-2; Emily Lin Grade (B) def. Katherine Sieve/Sophia Hubbard 6-1, 6-2.

SEMIFINALS

Lourdes 4, Providence Academy 3
Singles: Ryann Witter (L) def. Annika Harberts 6-2, 7-5; Caroline Daly (L) def. Koralyn Horstman 7-5, 6-1 Elyse Palen (L) def. Libby Bruce 6-0, 6-2; Erin Witter (L) def. Grace Arndt 6-3, 6-2. Doubles: Katelyn Clements/Lisey Langhus (P) def. Taylor Seelhammer/Katherine Sieve 6-2, 6-0; Marie Heyda/Delaney Flanigan (P) def. Taylor Elliott/Ellie Leise 6-3, 4-6, 6-1; Leightyn Ferrell/Skylar Bartz (P) def. Sophia Hubbard/Molly Suino 6-0, 2-6, 6-1.

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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