Claire Browning spoiled a lot of senior seasons this year.
The Aitkin Gobblers’ sophomore cruised through the North Subsection and Section 7-1A individual tennis tournaments to advance to her first Class 1A state singles tournament. Along the way she knocked off three seniors to reach her goal.
“It was kind of a goal,” said Browning. “I was expecting that it might not happen this year because there are a lot of good players in our section. I did want to go to state, but I wasn’t going to get my hopes up too high because I didn’t exactly know what they were all going to play. I knew it might be possible, though.”
Browning had little trouble advancing through the North Subsection Oct. 9. The top seed eliminated senior Hailee Greenwalt of Virginia 6-0, 6-0 in the opening round, downed teammate Elise Courtemanche 6-2, 6-0 and in the championship beat senior Amy Allen of Eveleth-Gilbert 6-1, 6-3.
During the Section 7-1A tournament Oct. 15, Browning eliminated Crosby-Ironton’s Gabrelle Hudrlik 6-0, 6-0 and E-G’s Cora Delich 6-1, 6-3 before facing No. 4-ranked Abby Kantor of Foley. The senior beat Browning 7-5, 6-1.
“I’m very happy with how I played that match,” Browning said of the section championship match. “I played her before and I know she’s really good. I just went in with the attitude that I’m going to give it my all, and while it might not come out the way I want, I was going to have fun and play a really good player. I really did enjoy it.”
Browning’s second-place finish advanced her to her first state tournament appearance, where she faced senior Claire Christian of United South Central and beat her 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. She then upset the No. 3 seeded Lauren Kozlkowski of Breck 6-7 (6-8), 7-5, 6-2 in the quarterfinals to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
Browning said her strengths on the court are determination and her mental game and they likely worked in that match.
“A lot of girls that fall, a lot of them are really good players, but if you can’t keep it together mentally you just fall apart,” said Browning. “That’s one of my strengths and also never giving up and focusing on the next point. It’s a lot easier to beat people if they get mad. Whereas with me, I try and just come out and get that next point and try not to focus on what happened in the last game.”
This is Browning’s fourth season of varsity tennis. She began playing when she was four with her parents and two older sisters. Her first two varsity seasons were as a doubles player. The last two seasons Browning has manned the No. 1 singles spot. That experience has been crucial.
“We always knew Claire was capable of going to state,” said Aitkin coach Cindy Walz. “She played in a lot of summer tournaments and practiced very hard in the offseason to get ready for this season. She’s really stepped up her game, especially at the end of the season.
“During the section tournament she was playing the best tennis she’s played yet. Throughout the season and in each match she learned something new and grew in her understanding of the game.”
Walz said Browning improved her short game and being aggressive with putting shots away.
“Claire hits with a lot of pace and she understands strategy,” said Walz. “She has learned to put the point away when the opportunity is there. Claire is an aggressive player.”
Browning finished her season with a 26-7 record after losing to Danielle Gannon of Holy Family Catholic 6-3, 6-1 in the state semifinals and Kantor again in the third-place match Friday. Kantor was the only senior Browning lost to in the last two weeks.
“How exciting for us to have a player like Claire, who is a joy to work with and a joy to be on the tennis courts with, and know we have her for two more years,” Walz said.
Other notable performances:
Cross country: Catie Ryan, Pequot Lakes, won the Menahga-Sebeka Invite in 16:50.
Swimming: Jaelin Beachy, Staples-Motley, won the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and was on one winning relay against Detroit Lakes.
Volleyball: Kendra Pohlman, Little Falls, finished with 22 digs, 19 set assists, 12 kills and a block against Pierz and 17 set assists, 10 kills, eight digs and one ace against Foley.
Jordyn Glenz, Verndale, finished with 16 kills and 14 digs against Sebeka.