Bemidji girls tennis will play in the Section 8AA championship for the second straight year after edging North #1 seed Brainerd 4-3 on Tuesday afternoon at Brainerd High School in a thrilling North subsection final.
After losing 6-1 to the Warriors for their lone loss in the regular season, the Lumberjacks avenged the defeat thanks to a win in number one singles from Savannah Haugen and a sweep of the doubles matches from three completely new tandems assembled by head coach Kyle Fodness.
“On Friday before practice, we told the team the plan on Tuesday…that we would be shifting some players into the doubles lineup,” Fodness said in an email after the match. “The team did a great job of taking that strategy and running with it with enthusiasm. They put in a few of their best practices on Friday and Monday, and the new doubles teams got together to play over the weekend and after practice on Monday.”
The pivotal match of the day came in number one singles, as Bemidji’s reworked top team of Lexi Leitner and Emily Dondelinger squared off with the Warriors’ Lily Jones and Kate Chaussee. After dropping the opening set 5-7, Leitner and Dondelinger faced a 2-5 deficit in the second with the Brainerd duo just a game away from securing the point. Remarkably, the Lumberjack senior and sophomore–who had not played together all season, with Dondelinger playing her first doubles match as well–reeled off multiple breaks and five straight games to take the set 7-5.
The set win preceded a marathon third set, where Brainerd again stood just a game away from victory at 6-5. On Dondelinger’s service game, she and Leitner again pulled out the game before edging out to a 6-5 lead in the tiebreaker with the entire gathered crowd of fans and players fixing their attention on this final, uncompleted match. On match point, Dondelinger reached behind herself to send a backhand winner down the line and complete an incredible comeback for the match and the winning team point.
“Lexi showed why she has been such a strong player in the doubles lineup over her long varsity career, and Emily did a tremendous job playing #1 doubles for the first time,” Fodness noted.
Their tandem was not the only new doubles partnership to turn in a comeback win for Bemidji. At third doubles, senior Nettie Kimble and junior Paige Anderson combined to rally for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win against Lila Collins and Ella Chaussee in the day’s penultimate match.
Bemidji started the team scoring with an emphatic second doubles victory for Chloe Hasbargen and Tatum Offerdahl, who also moved into doubles after a season of playing singles. They charged past Ally Goeden and Brynne Folden 6-3, 6-1 in the first completed match of the afternoon.
All of Brainerd’s scoring came courtesy of singles wins in second through fourth slots, occupied by Lumberjack players either playing singles for the first time or moving back to singles after recent doubles play. Catherine Moraghan topped the Jacks’ Darby Neis 6-2, 6-2 in the second slot, followed by a 6-0, 6-2 victory for Lindsy Busch over Mollie Rupp in the fourth singles matchup. Taylor Ruhl put Brainerd just one team point away from victory after a 6-3, 6-0 win in third singles against Margie Anderson.
The tide began to swing back to Bemidji in first singles, with Savannah Haugen’s second victory against top singles rival Kate Kurtzman this season. After taking Bemidji’s lone point in the teams’ previous meeting a few weeks earlier, Haugen’s 6-2, 6-4 triumph had more company to come, with the Kimble-Anderson and Leitner-Dondelinger victories still in progress.
“The new lineup puts a ton of pressure on the #1 singles player, but from watching Savannah prepare and play, you sure wouldn’t know it,” said Fodness afterward.
Bemidji improves to 12-1, and the North’s #2 seed now advances to the Section 8AA championship for the second consecutive season. After finishing runners-up last year, the Lumberjacks will face South #2 seed St. Cloud Tech–winners against last year’s champions Becker in the South subsection final–on Thursday at 1pm at Brainerd High School. Bemidji defeated the perennial Section 8AA power 6-1 in a regular season match on Sep. 3.