Paige Sargent could easily have made a different choice.
After all, she entered the postseason as one of the hottest girls tennis players in the state after beating two top-five state-ranked players, Roseville’s Nicole Ridenour and Mayo’s Claire Loftus in the final three weeks of the regular season.
But that was not enough to divert her from her forever tradition in the Section 1AA individual tournament. She’s always opted for doubles with close friend and teammate Julia Baber.
This being Baber’s senior season, Sargent — a junior — wasn’t about to go another direction now.
“Julia is a senior and playing doubles with her is super fun,” Sargent said. “We have so much experience together. We know each other’s playing styles and we don’t get nervous when we’re together.”
One more reason for them to stick together is their unfinished business. Two seasons ago (there was no state tournament last year due to the pandemic) they finished second at state in doubles. They figure it is now time to go win it.
After what they accomplished on Tuesday in the Section 1AA tournament at the Rochester Athletic Club, the duo will have a chance to pursue that dream. Sargent/Baber advanced to state for the fourth time together and for the third time did it by finishing as section champions.
The two made it look easy, winning 6-2, 6-2 against Mayo’s Aoife Loftus and Jorden Ruskell in the semifinals, then blasting Lakeville South’s Georgia Demi and Reese Burton 6-1, 6-1 in the final.
Century coach Josh Heiden appreciated how they played and also took note — once again – what perfect complements they are to each other.
“Paige is a steadier player; she hits her targets really well and does all the little things very consistently,” Heiden said. “Julia is the flashier one, the one who’ll come to the net a lot more and move around. She’s very athletic and uses that extremely well.”
Baber is glad of two things. One is that girls tennis players are getting a full season after being shortchanged by COVID-19 last year. The other is that Sargent is still around and that they’re going to get one more state shot together. That will come Oct. 28-29 at the University of Minnesota's Baseline Tennis Center.
“We know that we have a fighting chance to win it,” Baber said. “We’re ready to go see what we can do.”
Loftus, Regal state bound
It already seems as if Mayo’s Claire Loftus has been around forever, and she’s just a freshman.
Her opponents have to be thinking the same thing. For the second time, Loftus has pushed her way into the state tournament, again in singles.
The Spartans freshman did it with ease Tuesday, rolling past upstart player Chloe Regal of Stewartville 6-2, 6-1 in the Section 1AA final.
Stewartville shifted from Class A to Class AA this season. In Regal, also just a freshman, the Tigers might have their best player ever.
But she wasn’t good enough to beat No. 5-ranked Loftus. And not many are.
Both Loftus and Regal qualified for the state tournament with their top-two section finishes.
Loftus is expecting better results than the last time she reached state, as a seventh-grader. Then she lost her first two matches and was eliminated.
She's come a long way since then.
“I’m better in a lot of areas and just a lot more confident with my shots,” Loftus said. “This time, I don’t feel like an underdog going to state. I feel like I can beat some people.”
Regal never enters a match feeling much like an underdog, even when she is.
The freshman is always there to battle, no matter who she’s facing. And she almost always holds her own.
“Chloe has a number of different styles and can hit a number of different shots,” Stewartville longtime coach Kelly Manley said. “Plus, she’s aggressive and gets to lots of balls. She’s resilient.”
Semifinals: Claire Loftus (Mayo) def. Kathleen Thompson (Century) 6-0, 6-0; Chloe Regal (Stewartville) def. Kiera Kelly (Lakeville North) 6-2, 7-5. Final: Loftus (Mayo) def. Regal (Stewartville) 6-2, 6-1. Third place: Kelly (Lakeville North) def. Thompson (Century) 6-0, 6-1.
Semifinals: Julia Baber/Paige Sargent (Century) def. Aoife Loftus/Jorden Ruskell (Mayo) 6-2, 6-2; Georgia Demi/Reese Burton (Lakeville South) def. Nandini Iyer/Audrey Aney (Mayo) 6-2, 6-3. Final: Baber/Sargent (Century) def. Demi/Burton (Lakeville South) 6-1, 6-1. Third place: Loftus/Ruskell (Mayo) def. Iyer/Aney (Mayo) 6-1, 7-5. True second: Demi/Burton (Lakeville South) def. Loftus/Ruskell 6-3, 6-0.