In the 35-year history of Minnesota State High School League girls' tennis the Brainerd Warriors had never qualified for the state tournament.
That drought ended Monday as Brainerd defeated the defending champion Bemidji Lumberjacks 5-2 for the Section 8-2A championship and the first trip to state in program history.
Brainerd (14-1) plays Section 7-2A champion Elk River (24-1-1) in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state tournament at 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
"I'm really proud of these girls, their hard work, everything," Warriors coach Ellen Fussy said. "They came to my 6:30 a.m. practices this summer that I know they were not excited to be at. We did footwork drills that we all knew we needed, and conditioning. I think that all helped them."
In the semifinals, Brainerd beat Monticello 6-1 and Bemidji upset St. Cloud Tech 4-3.
"Our girls came out ready to play," Fussy said. "I just think our girls had the confidence. We knew we had to get through Monticello because Bemidji and Tech played before us so we knew we would face Bemidji. We were kind of thinking it would be Tech because Tech was our only loss this year. We beat Bemidji at the Camp Lake Hubert tournament 5-2 but Bemidji looked like they were improved when we watched them at subsections last week.
"We gave the girls the speech (before the meet) that they have nothing to lose, so lay everything on the line. We came out and only had one 3-setter."
The section team consists of seniors Taylor Headlee, Zoe Houle, Sam Kletscher, Kathryn Chandler and Katie Southard; junior Courtney Tusler; and sophomores Mikinzee Salo, Brianna Rademacher, Mackayla Headlee and Kayla Kraemer.
Fussy, formerly a long-time assistant in the program, credited her predecessor, Marnie Whalen, and assistant coaches Chuck Whalen and Bruce Thompson for a phenomenal four-year run. In that span Brainerd has gone 56-8 in dual meets, won three Central Lakes Conference titles and now its first section championship.
"This was a successful program before I took over as head coach," Fussy said. "Marnie and Chuck and Bruce and I have coached together a long time. They've put in a lot of work.
"Some of these girls are 4-year veterans, it's their time. Their work in the summer helped.
"This feels really good. The girls are excited about it, they should be. We knew we should be there, we just had to make sure that we knew how we were going to get there. It's that confidence thing. Tennis is such a mind and mental game. We needed to be there mentally and physically and we were."
Brainerd 6, Monticello 1
No. 1: Katie Kotschevar (M) def. Taylor Headlee 6-2, 6-0
No. 2: Mikinzee Salo (Brd) def. Kaitlyn Johnson 6-0, 6-1
No. 3: Brianna Rademacher (Brd) def. Heather Theisen 6-3, 6-1
No. 4: Makayla Headlee (Brd) def. Samara Emberton 6-4, 6-1
No. 1: Zoe Houle-Kayla Kraemer (Brd) def. Liz Gindele-Katie Thickpenny 6-2, 4-6 ( 10-8)
No. 2: Sam Kletscher-Courtney Tusler (Brd) def. Sam Jensen-Terae Demarais 6-2, 6-1
No. 3: Kathryn Chandler-Katie Southard (Brd) def. Morgan Sawatzke-Letitia Juder 6-3, 6-1
Brainerd 5, Bemidji 2
No. 1: Taylor Headlee def. Jamie Hoffman 6-4 2-2 (default)
No. 2: Salo def. Cortne Solberg 6-3, 6-1
No. 3: Rademacher def. Emma Nielsen 6-1, 6-2
No. 4: Mackayla Headlee def. Haley Pollock 7-6 (7-4), 6-2
No. 1: Kenzie Kane (Bem) def. Houle-Kraemer 6-3, 7-6 (7-1)
No. 2: Kletscher-Tusler def. Taylor Kane-Katie Ditmanson 6-2, 3-6, 6-1
No. 3: Chandler-Southard def. Anna Lintelmann-Amy Frosaker 7-5, 6-3
Overall: Brd 14-1. Next: Brainerd vs. Elk River 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at Baseline Tennis Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Monday's first round
Briann Anderson (Apollo) def. Salo 6-0, 6-1
Houle-Taylor Headlee def. Kristen Fah-Jenna Toedter (Becker) 6-1, 6-0
Next: Houle-Taylor Headlee in individual tournament finals 9 a.m. Tuesday, Gold's Gym, Sartell.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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