Duluth East freshman Aili Hietala was down 40-0 in the first game of her quarterfinal match. But she rallied to get and service break and from there tracked down every ball she could, reaching tough drop-shots and shots out wide.
“My tennis is just getting balls back and grinding every single point out,” Hietala said. “You just have to go for it, even if you think you can’t get it.”
The fourth-seeded Hietala defeated No. 5 seed Samantha Nichols, a senior from Eagan, 6-2, 6-0 in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A girls’ tennis state tournament at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center.
Early in the second set, Hietala double-faulted twice, allowing a break-point opportunity for Nichols. But once again, Hietala took control and won a pair of 24-shot rallies to go up 2-0 in the set.
“Her strength is a retriever,” Duluth East coach Lee Kruger said. “She will track every darn ball down. She doesn’t think that she can’t get a ball.”
Kruger sees Hietala’s experience paying off, too. As a seventh-grader, she lost her first match to Edina’s Sophia Reddy, who is this year’s No. 2 seed. Last year Hietala lost her quarterfinal to eventual champion Isabella Lambert of Minnetonka. Her goal this year was to make it to the semis.
“I’ve definitely learned how to hit a bigger ball competing with the older girls,” Hietala said.
Hietala will face Edina sophomor Nicole Copeland, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, in the semifinal Friday. Copeland advanced with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Minnetonka freshman Emily Jurgens. Reddy defeated Mahtomedi’s Anna Stutz 6-2, 6-1, setting up a semifinal rematch with Elk River senior Meagan Brown, the No. 3 seed.
In doubles, the Prior Lake duo of Taylor Jackson and Charlotte Bowles upset third-seeded Marguax Boyer and Andrea Jansson of Edina 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (5). Jackson ended the match with a pair of winners.
The two top seeds from Blake — senior Lainey Axell and sophomore Arlina Shen — advanced to the semifinals in their section of the bracket at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
Axell hasn’t lost a game, and Shen only dropped one in her first match. Axell will face No. 5 seed Ally Agerland from Holy Family Catholic after her three-set victory, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, over No. 4 seed Cindy Li from Winona Cotter.
No. 3 seed Katie Mulvey from Trinity School also advanced in straight sets.
All semifinal singles matches in both classes will be at 8 a.m. Friday, followed by the championships at 11:30 a.m.