The best state tournament the Elk River tennis program has enjoyed in 12 appearances ended Friday with Elks playing on three of the six courts in finals at the U of M. Katie Jesperson was third in singles, Michala Schulz and Leah Koehler won consolation doubles, and Cassanda Brown was in the consolation singles finals where she lost.
Katie Jesperson (middle) beamed along with the other medal-winners after singles competition. From left were champion Aria Lambert of Minnetonka, runner-up Kelsey Frechette of Rochester Century, third-place Jesperson, fourth-place Patty Zhao of Maple Grove, and consolation champ Emilie Renault of Rochester Mayo. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Katie Jesperson made an ace serve on Friday with the final swing of her terrific six-year career with the Elk River tennis team.
With that ace, Jesperson wrapped up the third-place medal in Class AA singles with a victory over a Maple Grove player, and capped off the best state tournament the Elk program has ever enjoyed in 12 appearances between boys and girls.
(See SPORTS CHATTER FOR audio interviews at the state tournament. Go back to Sports and roll down to Sports Chatter.)
Also playing her last match as an Elk was five-year standout Cassandra Brown, who lost in the consolation finals. Jesperson finished with 213 career wins and Brown had 186.
Three of the six courts were occupied by Elks as the 2009 season concluded at the U of M's Baseline Tennis Center. Along with Jesperson and Brown, junior Leah Koehler and freshman Michaela Schulz were winning their match to capture the doubles consolation title.
"It was an eventful and emotional day, yes, that's for sure," said coach Blake Iserman.
Earlier this week, the Elks beat Brainerd and Cretin-Derham to reach the state finals for the first time and lost to Edina in the finals to bring home the state runner-up trophy. The previous best team finish was third place by the 2002 team. Jesperson's third-place finish matched the best-ever by an Elk, by Lynn Milless in in 1981.
Jesperson finished the season 43-1. Her career totals were 213 wins against 26 losses.
The Elks' one-singles player for the past five years got a nice writeup in Friday's Star Tribune. She was chronicled by writer Jim Paulsen as a four-time state qualifier (doubles twice, singles twice) reaching the semifinals for the first time and facing the defending champion, Aria Lambert of Minnetonka.
Jesperson lost that match, then bounced back for third.
Was she was happy with her senior season?
"Yes, I am. I am very happy with it," Jesperson said. "I don't think it could have gone any better. I met all my goals."
Her main goals were to lose no more than one match and to place in the top three, knowing that Lambert would be very difficult to topple.
A victory in her final match as an Elk, here, was the 213th of Katie Jesperson's six-year varsity career. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
When Jesperson finished her final match as an Elk, there was a bit of emotion displayed by Katie and her coach, both of whom are normally both quite stoic, in the post-match huddle courtside.
"He told me that it's been a privilege, and an honor, to work with me," said Jesperson.
"Katie asked for one of the tennis balls (from the match)," Iserman noted. "She does not usually show any emotion like that."
Jesperson won her first two matches Thursday, over Parul Kapoor of St. Cloud Tech 6-2, 6-0, and Jennie Hartjes of Cretin-Derham Hall 6-3, 6-4.
In the semifinal, Lambert smoked Jesperson 6-0, 6-1. To show how good Lambert is, those were the only two sets Jesperson dropped in 44 matches, and she won just one game. Lambert would repeat as state champion by beating Rochester Century sophomore Kelsey Frechette 6-3, 6-3 in the finals.
Jesperson's third-place foe was Maple Grove's up-and-coming star Patty Zhao, an eighth-gader. Jesperson had beaten Zhao in a conference dual meet earlier, and cruised again 6-2, 6-0 for the third-place medal.
"What a way for her to go out, with a win like that, her 43rd win of the season," said Iserman. "She is such a special kid. Cassandra too."
The coach was asked how it feels to see both Jesperson and Brown end their career.
"Words can't describe it," said the coach, shaking his head. "I really don't know what were going to do next year. We'll figure something out."
Brown lost to Frechette in the first round of singles 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday. She bounced back with two consolation wins, over Chanhassen's Katie Mattson 6-2, 6-2 and Stillwater's Natalie Phippen 6-4, 6-4.
Michaela Schulz (left) and Leah Koehler won consolation doubles. They'll move up to one and two singles in 2010. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
In the consolation finals she faced Mayo senior Emilie Renault, who had the misfortune of drawing Lambert in the first round. Renault foiled Brown 6-2, 6-3.
Brown finished her senior year 39-4, and her career with 186 wins and 19 losses. She was two-singles the last three years behind Jesperson.
Schulz and Koehler — normally the three- and four-singles players for the Elks — lost in the first round Thursday to Mayo's Jacqueline Cliby and Paige Becker 6-4, 6-0. Had they won, they would have faced eventual champions, Makenna Borg and Maddie Buxton of Eden Prairie in round two.
"We just ran into a good team," said Schulz. "I didn't really care because we would have gotten killed the next round."
Schulz and Koehler dropped into consolation and fought off elimination with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win over Woodbury's Crosby Reuvers and Mary Beck, both seniors. The Elk duo then beat freshman twins Varvar and Elizaveta Zelenia of Eagan 6-2, 6-2 to reach the consolation finals.
Their opponents were very familiar: Kahla Becken and Kayla Bilderback of longtime conference arch-rival Centennial. Both juniors, they are excellent all-around athletes and are the Cougars' normal one-doubles team. But Schulz and Koehler won 7-5, 6-2.
"It felt pretty good, after the loss to Edina," said Schulz, about being able to collect a medal in doubles.
Koehler agreed: "I'm real excited. This was the best shot we had (to win something)."
With Jesperson and Brown moving on to college tennis next year, Schulz, a three-year varsity veteran already, was asked if she's ready to take over at No. 1 as a sophomore. Schulz grinned, "Sure. Unless Leah beats me."