By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
ST PETER — Four years ago, Mallory Shellum of St. James and Heather Annis of Mapleton were rivals on the tennis court.
They looked forward to playing each other simply for the opportunity to try to crush their opponent on the court. Neither will go so far as to say bitter rivals, but both admit there was not much love lost between the two.
“I definitely wanted to beat her in high school,” Annis said. “We weren’t in the same section, but we played each other almost every year in a nonconference meet and at the St. James doubles tournament and we were both pretty competitive.”
Shellum agreed: “She was a big rival for me. I knew she was one of the better players in the area, so I always wanted to go out and beat her.”
Fast forward to today and Shellum and Annis have become the veterans on a relatively young Gustavus Adolphus tennis squad. They’ve played doubles together for three years and also making an impact as singles players.
“It was different at first being on the same team in college,” Annis said. “We had to adopt a whole new mindset. We’ve gone from being rivals to being pretty close friends.”
Shellum also had to do her share of adjusting.
“It was weird, that’s for sure,” she said. “It was weird for my parents, too. They had to go from rooting against her in high school to rooting for the both of us in college.”
When Shellum and Annis arrived at Gustavus, they were part of a six-player recruiting class. Katie Allen of Pella, Iowa, was perhaps the most accomplished of the six freshmen coming out of high school, but Shellum and Annis remain the only two seniors on the team.
“They persevered; they stuck it out,” Gustavus head coach Jon Carlson said. “I knew Mallory was an amazing player in high school, but she didn’t know how to hit topspin at all. That was something we knew we’d have to develop with her.
“Heather was just a great grinder. She could keep the ball in play, and we knew we’d have to develop some weapons for her.”
Both players have improved their games dramatically over the last four seasons. Annis has jumped up to the No. 2 singles spot in the lineup and Shellum moved up to No. 3 on Friday. They’ve also become a formidable doubles pairing.
“Three years ago I was moving people around in the lineup pretty liberally, and I decided to stick Mallory and Heather together,” Carlson said. “They clicked right away.
“They had the same mentality. They’re both good fighters, and they enjoy the fight in each other.”
Annis is currently 7-11 in singles play with three straight wins. Shellum is 11-9 with four straight wins. As a doubles team they are 10-9.
As their careers wind down, both are glad they attended Gustavus and stuck with their tennis careers. Shellum admitted tennis almost overwhelmed her this spring and considered not going out, but opted to continue playing.
“I think I would have regretted it if I quit,” Shellum said. “It’s been a great experience. Heather has become one of my best friends on and off the court, and that never would have happened if we didn’t play tennis together.”