By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
ST PETER —
About the only way Megan Lahti and Michaela Nelson could know each other any better is if they were sisters.
The tennis players from St. James have played doubles together the last two seasons, and their knowledge of each other’s game has resulted in a wealth of success. That success was in ample evidence Tuesday as the duo won a pair of one-sided matches to help the Saints capture the Section 3A team championship and earn a return trip to the Class A state meet.
St. James began the day with a 7-0 shutout of Fairmont and then closed out with another 7-0 win against Luverne for the section title. It marks the Saints’ eighth-straight trip to the Class A meet and their ninth in the last 10 years.
As for Lahti and Nelson, they were dominant in both matches. The tandem knocked off the Fairmont doubles team 6-0, 6-3 and then defeated the Luverne duo 6-1, 6-1.
“Yeah we have a pretty good connection out on the court,” Nelson said. “We’re best friends outside of tennis, too, so we pretty much know how the other one thinks. We have pretty good communication.”
Lahti agreed: “We’re playing together all the time in the spring and summer. We’re probably hitting every other day, and we play in a lot of tournaments, too.”
Both players say the constant offseason work has resulted in an improved net game for both of them.
“That was something I consciously worked on,” Nelson said. “I wanted to get better going to my left and my right and I wanted to improve my overheads, too. I can tell I’m better this year.”
The Lahti-Nelson team was not the only St. James entrant to turn in a quality effort against Luverne. Lorena Hernandez had a convincing 6-2, 6-0 win at second singles, and Julie Bove was a 6-0, 6-3 winner at third singles.
St. James’ No. 1 doubles team of Michaela Nordby and Acacia Foss delivered a 6-2, 6-2 victory, and Aryn Ekstrom was a 6-2, 6-2 victor at first singles. Aubrey Ekstrom (No. 4 singles) went to a tiebreaker in the first set and ended up winning 7-6 (3), 6-2.
The closest match came at third doubles where the Saints’ Cassidy Chapek and Morgan Rankin edged McKenzie Wenninger and Tatiana Gust 6-1, 5-7, 6-1.
The Saints have only two losses this season — one to Waseca and one to Edina. The loss to Waseca was a 4-3 decision, and St. James wouldn’t mind at all if the teams had a rematch at state.
“We’d love to see Waseca again,” Lahti said. “It was a close match the first time, and it always seems to be close. It would be nice to get a little payback.”
The Class A state tournament begins Oct. 23 in Minneapolis.