Jessica Aney of Rochester Century
The difference between Jessie Aney and nearly every other girls' tennis player in Minnesota is obvious, even to the untrained eye. And it's not simply because the Rochester Century eighth-grader needs to stretch to reach 5 feet tall.
No, the uber-athletic Aney whips through forehands where others merely stroke them and crushes topspin backhands that opponents dream of possessing.
She stops on a dime, leaps, spins, twists and sprints through points, never appearing tired and always ready for the next shot.
Aney made short work of two older, more experienced opponents Friday en route to winning the Class 2A singles championship at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
She defeated Lucia Solis, Wayzata's Argentinian foreign-exchange student, in the semifinals, then scored a decisive 6-2, 6-2 victory over Edina's Caroline Ward for the championship.
Ward had surprised defending champion and Aney teammate Kelsey Frechette of Rochester Century 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a draining, 3-hour, 15-minute semifinal match.
"She [Aney] really didn't give me much of a chance," Ward said. "I don't want to make excuses, but I didn't have enough left in the tank to play her style."
Even if she had been fully rested, it may not of mattered. Aney called it the best match that she'd played all fall.
Everything Ward tried, Aney answered. Shots with depth were returned with power. A cut backhand was brought back with even more slice. Nearly every ball Aney hit landed in play as she committed fewer than 10 unforced errors.
"I felt really, good today," Aney said. "I had good energy. That was probably the best match I played all season."
The victory makes Aney the third eighth-grade girl in state history to win a state singles championship. The previous two, Gina Suh of St. Paul Academy and Anh Nguyen of Bloomington Jefferson, went on to win a state-record five singles championships.
That goal is much too far in the future, Aney said. And, she added, she's not even the best eighth-grade girl in the state. That label belongs to fellow Rochester native Ingrid Neel, who played for Rochester Mayo's state championship-winning boys' team last spring.
Playing Neel with a state championship on the line would be Aney's ultimate goal.
"She's my best friend, so it would be fun to play her in the championship," Aney said. "We play each other all the time. She usually beats me, though. It's kind of a mental thing with me."
Aney was asked if she might persuade Neel to play girls' tennis next fall, setting up a potential dream match.
"I don't know. She does pretty much what she wants," said Aney, showing a toothy grin. "She is the best player in the state."
Perhaps. But Aney is the state champion.
• In Class 2A doubles, the third time was no charm for Mounds View's Tacy Haws-Lay. This year, Haws-Lay was paired with sophomore Summer Brills for her final chance at a state title, but they lost to Rochester Mayo's Kylie Boyer and Kate Rosenow 6-3, 6-7 (7-2), 6-4. The senior lost in two previous doubles finals: 2007 with Melanie Yates and 2010 with Laurel Krebsbach.
Class 1A: Washington sets a record
It was more fun and less stressful, said Mounds Park Academy senior Amber Washington, when she was cruising to four doubles championships in a row from 2006 through 2009.
Washington moved up to play singles in 2010 and won that championship, too. On Friday she repeated as the 1A singles champion, defeating St. Paul Academy's Sonia Das 6-4, 7-5.
"When I was younger, I used to come to the state tournament and win and think, 'Oh, this is kind of cool,'" Washington said. "I didn't know how big of a deal it was."
It wasn't long before Washington had the chance to become the first player in state history to win six individual championships. As this season moved closer to the state tournament, Washington confessed that she began to feel the pressure of making history.
Washington played well enough to beat Das, whom she had defeated twice during the regular season, but acknowledged that the circumstances had an effect on her.
"It feels great, I guess, but it's also kind of a relief," she said. "I accomplished what I needed to do to win."
In the doubles final, Providence Academy's Elena Sullivan, the 2009 1A singles champion, teamed with her sister Eva to win the championship 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) over Margaret Pearson and Sofia Terzic of Rochester Lourdes.