BY ROB LAPLANTE
The St. Michael-Albertville girls’ tennis team headed into the Section 5AA playoffs knowing the road to the semifinals had to go through their home court.
The No. 4 seed Knights had the security of hosting two home matches to begin the playoffs. Thursday’s matchup had them facing a Park Center squad they previously defeated 6-1 in the opening match of the season.
The Knights would fight off both the Pirates and the cold-windy weather, in a 5-2 victory. The win advanced them to Friday’s match against Blaine. Similar to the match against Park Center, the Knights knew they had the edge heading into their showdown with the Bengals. Earlier this season they defeated Blaine 5-2.
Eighth-grade singles player Kiana Eystad said that was a key factor in getting the two wins.
“We knew that we could beat them,” said Eystad, who won both her playoff matches and improved her overall singles record to 22-0 for the year. “It was nice, because it was reassuring for us knowing we already beat both teams.”
Thursday’s win over Park Center saw the Knights sweep all three doubles matches. The doubles turned out to be a key factor in both playoff wins, as Friday they swept all three doubles points, despite having to shuffle its lineup from the previous match.
Senior Cierra Eystad partnered with senior Kylie Slavin and won a close battle at No. 1 doubles. The deciding match point came at No. 3 doubles where sophomore Shelbie Olek and senior Michaela Haraldson won 6-3, 6-2 to gain that all important fourth and deciding point in the match.
“I went with our third lineup against Blaine, which was our stronger doubles lineup,” said head coach Jim Riles. “Our doubles really stepped up and played well.”
The biggest challenge from the two playoff matches was trying to fight off the brisk temperatures and the swirling wind.
“It was so cold, it was terrible,” said Eystad, who like most players, were bundled in their non-usual tennis attire. “Even with three sweatshirts on, you were still cold. You never knew where the ball was going to go.”
With the semifinals being played indoors at Reed-Sweatt in Minneapolis, all teams will have the luxury of a warmer climate. Being the Knights haven’t made it this far since 2007, indoor tennis is not something they are too familiar with.
“It moves a little faster inside,” Riles said. “For the kids it will be rough. A lot of them haven’t played indoor tennis.”
The Knights (18-4) will play top-seed Mounds View at 3 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner advancing to the section championship match later that night against either Centennial or Champlin Park.
“We’re going to go in and have fun with it and see how it goes,” Eystad said. “If we lose, that stuff happens, but we’re really excited to play Mound’s.”