MARSHALL — It had been 165 days since a Marshall prep sports team took to a playing surface in a game that counted towards its record, the last being the Tiger boys basketball team’s Section 2AAA championship victory over Mankato East on March 12 before their season and ultimately the spring sports season was suddenly shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Monday afternoon not only marked the return to the court for the Marshall girls tennis team, but also the start of the fall sports season in an autumn that will see lots of changes across the sports landscape.
Marshall coach Alex Cleppe said it felt great to get back on the court and get the season underway.
“It feels good to be able to play a match of tennis. It’s been up-in-the-air with the whole COVID situation so it’s nice to be able to play a match,” Cleppe said. “It was a little warm, but we’ll take warm if we get to play tennis.”
Going against a challenging St. James Area opponent, the Tigers went toe-to-toe with the Saints, but ultimately came up just short in a 4-3 loss.
Cleppe said despite the result, he was extremely proud of the way his team continued to fight to the end to start the season.
“We may have came up short with the team score, but overall I’m very proud of our girls,” Cleppe said. “Last year, we lost to this team 7-0, so to come up one point short, these girls battled. We had multiple matches go to the third set and they really battled deep and gave it everything they had. I can’t be more proud of how we played.”
While fans kept their distance and lined up lawn chairs around the fence to take in the action, the Tigers and Saints battled it out in the hot August weather, with three of the seven matches going to a deciding third set. Marshall won two of those three extended affairs, with Mariah Bergjord defeating St. James’ Allison Bluedorn 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 at the No. 4 singles spot while the No. 2 doubles team of Kayla Polejewski and Dani Ewing beat the Saints duo of Samantha Tetzloft and Eva Romsdale 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.
St. James would take the first three singles matches, with the Saints’ Ellie Becker outlasting Marshall’s Gionna Parsa 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 at the No. 1 spot while Jaelyn Haler defeated Marshall’s Eden Knudson 6-2, 6-2 at the No. 2 spot and Mya Hanson defeated Marshall’s Leah Matzner 6-3, 7-6 at the No. 3 spot.
The Marshall duo of Aubrey Bjella and Mackenna Eickhoff defeated St. James’ Sofia Solorzano and Marian Mireles 6-1, 6-2 in No. 3 doubles, but the Saints’ Gabriela Trapero and Sailor Mohlenbrook defeated Marshall’s Leah Schaefer and Regan Loft 6-4, 6-2 at the No. 1 doubles spot to earn the one-point victory.
Cleppe said throughout the match their key was maintaining solid footwork and ground strokes and trying to keep a high level of confidence.
“I think with our singles kids their footwork was good, their ground strokes were good and they really just trusted themselves. That’s the thing I keep telling them, to trust their ground strokes and be confident in what they do because they have the skills, they just need to trust they can do it. Once they start believing in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish,” Cleppe said. “With our doubles teams, we had a couple of new teams in there and it was their first time on varsity and I thought they played really well too.”
Marshall (0-1) will face Worthington on Thursday morning at 11 a.m. Cleppe said their biggest takeaway is continuing to make their opponents work extremely hard to earn their points and keep battling every match.
“I’m going to tell the kids that the way we battled, we made St. James work for their match and didn’t give them any points, so if we bring that same mentality to Worthington and make them earn it and take it from us vs. just giving it to them, I think that will bode well for us,” Cleppe said. “We just need to continue to battle, I think that’s the key for all of us, just battle, battle, battle.”
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox