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Ruskell, Mayo tennis team set to learn from loss to Minnetonka

No. 1 Minnetonka beat No. 2 Mayo for the second time this season in girls tennis, winning 4-3.

090721-CENTURY-MAYO-GIRLS-TENNIS-5509.jpg
Mayo’s Jorden Ruskell returns the ball during a No. 2 doubles girls tennis match against Century on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, at John Marshall High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — Jorden Ruskell doesn’t lose much at No. 1 doubles. And when it comes to her Mayo team, it’s the same thing.

Wednesday was different. The Spartans were taking on state defending champion and No. 1-ranked Minnetonka.

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The Skippers and the No. 2-ranked Spartans had squared off earlier this year, Minnetonka a 5-2 winner.

It happened again Wednesday as the teams met in Mayo’s final regular-season dual of the year, at the Mayo courts. The Spartans made progress, falling just 4-3 this time.

As for Ruskell and No. 1 doubles teammate Malea Diehn, they had their hands full as Minnetonka switched defending state singles champion Sarah Shahbaz from singles to doubles in this dual. Shahbaz pretty much owned everything out there and she and teammates Meghan Jurgens cruised 6-0, 6-1.

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Ruskell was unshaken before the match and after it. She’d considered it an exciting opportunity and another chance at growth. No reason to flinch with that mind.

So she didn’t.

“I wasn’t scared at all,” said Ruskell, who’s lost just twice all season at No. 1 doubles for 14-3 Mayo, once Wednesday and last week against No. 3 Edina. She didn’t play in the first Minnetonka match.

“I was just excited to get good competition today,” Ruskell said. “It’s good to play the best. It’s good practice as we get ready for (the postseason, which begins Tuesday).”

Ruskell has a mission every time she steps on the court. After four years on the varsity, her method is what she’s come to regard as the “Mayo way.”

It’s all about attitude. Slumped shoulders are out, positive body language and words are in.

It’s why she’s kept coming back for more, year after year with this team. They support each other, through thick and thin. Mostly there’s been a bunch of thick with Mayo always a top-10 team in the state. But they’ve taken some hits, too, like everybody.

“Our attitude is to always try our best and have fun,” Ruskell said. “You never let yourself have slumped shoulders. You build up your partner and give your best effort, always.”

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Ruskell has made tennis much more than a fall-season thing. She pours herself into the game year-round, having taken private lessons for years.

Her reasons for that are two-fold.

“I do it because I love the sport of tennis, but also it’s about my team (and wanting to get better for them),” Ruskell said. “We are all so close and supportive. The team really keeps me going. There is that cohesion. We all go to Mayo and Mayo is a very inclusive and supportive school. With that, we know that we all struggle at times. But we help each other.”

Hill happy to be back

Taylor Hill hadn’t played tennis at Mayo since her freshman year. The senior took a break from it in order to concentrate fully on her first sports love, basketball.

But after attending the state tennis tournament a year ago and watching Mayo compete there, Hill’s appetite for tennis was whet again. And in an even bigger way, she felt a desire to be back with her old tennis teammates.

So she’s back and loving it. On Wednesday, she and No. 3 doubles teammate Ella Dozois accounted for one of the Spartans’ three wins, beating Minnetonka’s Alex Cummings and Karianna Lien 6-0, 6-2.

“I decided to come back this season just for fun, being it was my senior year,” said Hill, who recently made a verbal commitment to play basketball next year at NAIA school Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa. “Last year, I watched our tennis team at state and then realized how much I missed it. I decided I might as well have fun with it like they were.”

She has no regrets.

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“It’s been a lot of fun,” Hill said. “And it’s nice that I still know everyone on the team.”

NOTES: Mayo played the match without star No. 1 singles player Claire Loftus. Ranked fourth in the state, the sophomore is nursing an injured right wrist. She’s expected to be back for the semifinals and finals of the Section 1AA tournament.

Minnetonka was also without one of its two best players, Kelsey Phillips. Phillips is ranked second in the state.

Despite Wednesday’s loss, Mayo coach Jeff Demaray is not at all giving up on the idea that his team — which is loaded with underclassmen — can still finish as state champion this season.

“We have a team whose ultimate goal is to win the state championship,” Demaray said. “We are absolutely still in (the race). Minnetonka’s the favorite, but we are in it.”

Mayo 4, Minnetonka 3
Singles: Aoife Loftus (Mayo) def. Arianna Piedrahita 6-1, 6-0; Emilija Medzuikaite (Minn) def. Keely Ryder 6-2, 6-3; Ana Medina (Mayo) def. Kate Feist 6-2, 6-3; Carter Nye (Minn) def. Eliana Elder 6-0, 6-2. Doubles: Sarah Shahbaz/Meghan Jurgens (Minn) def. Jorden Ruskell/Malea Diehn 6-0, 6-1; Maddie Prondzinski/Karina Elvestrom (Minn) def. Nandini Iyer/Audrey Aney 6-3, 6-2; Ella Dozois/Taylor Hill (Mayo) def. Alexa Cummings/Karianna Lien 6-0, 6-2.

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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