Stilwell stretches for shot

No. 1 singles player Avery Stilwell reaches for a shot during a match earlier this season. Stilwell and the Dragons claimed the Section 2A championship Monday.

No matter how many times his Litchfield girls tennis teams reach a section title match, no matter how much they appear to be the favorite, Matt Draeger knows one thing.

It’s never easy.

“It’s easy to say you’re favored, you should win,” Draeger said after Litchfield beat LeSueur-Henderson 5-2 to claim the Section 2A championship Monday. “But it wasn’t easy. It was a real struggle … and I thought we handled it really well.

“I think our competitiveness got us through that,” he added. “I’m proud of the way we stuck together.”

Litchfield will meet the yet-to-be-determined Section 6A champion in the first round of the state tournament Oct. 23 at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis. Before that, however, the Dragons will play in the Section 2A individual tournament, beginning Thursday at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The win over LeSueur-Henderson gave Draeger his fourth section girls tennis championship, and third consecutive title.

The Dragons’ depth and experience made them a heavy favorite for another title, and they didn’t disappoint. But as Draeger said, it was more challenging than some might have expected.

Litchfield opened the day with a morning semifinal match against Holy Family Catholic and cruised to a 7-0 win, winning all seven matches in straight sets.

Following a break, the Dragons headed into the finals against LeSueur-Henderson. With much of the lineup having seen section tournament action, Litchfield had an advantage.

“The key in those playoff matches is to get out to a lead,” Draeger said. “If you can do that, then all of the sudden the pressure mounts on the other team. Our singles — Ryanna (Steinhaus), Elise (Bierbaum), Alyssa (Ross) — did a good job of getting us a lead. We just had to figure out how to get a doubles point.

“I don’t think anyone would say we played awesome, but we played at a high level,” Draeger said. “Any time you have experience in those matches, I think, it benefits you.”

That experience teaches players they will run into rough spots, especially in a day where they play two matches, Draeger said. Knowing how to manage and overcome those difficult patches is the key to winning.

“Yesterday, we fell behind in some matches, and we went on a run,” Draeger said. “The key in any sport is to minimize the other team’s runs and get many of your own runs as you can.”

Those runs carried Litchfield to another state tournament Monday.

SECTION 5A TEAM TOURNAMENT

Monday, Oct. 7

At Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter

FINALS

Litchfield 5, LeSueur-Henderson 2

Singles

No. 1 — Avery Stilwell (L) def. Greta Nesbit (LH) 6-4, 6-3. No. 2 — Elise Bierbaum (L) def. Gretchen Dwyer (LH) 6-0, 6-0. No. 3 — Alyssa Ross (L) def. Makenna Reinhardt (LH) 6-1, 6-2. No. 4 — Ryanna Steinhaus (L) def. Mia Schwarz (L) 6-0, 6-0.

Doubles

No. 1 — Chloe Brandt and Keely Olness (LH) def. Vaida Behnke and Neriah Lara (L) 7-5, 6-4. No. 2 — Britney Prahl and Kylie Michels (L) def. Emma Seaver and Anna Pavlo (LH) 6-4, 6-3. No. 3 — Darbi Dunning and Morgan Jones (LH) def. Kelsey Ballard and Taylor Draeger (L) 6-4, 6-7, 10-8.

SEMIFINALS

Litchfield 7, Holy Family Catholic 0

Singles

No. 1 — Avery Stilwell (L) def. Ally Agerland 6-1, 6-4; No. 2 — Elise Bierbaum (L) def. Cecily Cronin 6-1, 6-3. No. 3 — Alyssa Ross (L) def. Claire Haley 6-1, 6-2. No. 4 — Ryanna Steinhaus (L) def. Aria McNeely 6-1, 6-1.

Doubles

No. 1 — Vaida Behnke and Neriah Lara (L) def. Morgan Hausback and Lauren Taylor 6-1, 6-0. No. 2 — Britney Prahl and Kylie Michels (L) def. Ashley Anseth and Julia Baskfield 6-1, 6-1. No. 3 — Kelsey Ballard and Taylor Draeger (L) def. Emma Murphy and Cassie Beddor 6-4, 6-4.

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