Nelson cinches state berth
South Hardin senior is first qualifier since 2008
WATERLOO — South Hardin senior Danae Nelson finished the regular season undefeated in singles play, but in the Class 1A Region 2 team tennis tournament she suffered her first loss of the season in a 5-0 sweep by Ballard.
Nelson bounced back well from that in the North Iowa Cedar League tournament on Monday, but after reaching the championship match she was defeated by Olivia Fain from Waterloo Columbus, only her second loss of the year.
Once again Nelson would have to come back from suffering a loss to play lights-out tennis if she wanted to earn a state qualification at the 1A Region 4 singles and doubles tournament at Byrnes Park in Waterloo on Wednesday.
And she did just that, winning in each of the first three rounds to earn a spot in the regional finals and an automatic bid to the state tournament.
“It’s really great, it’s been a long time since anyone has gone to state so it’s really exciting, definitely,” Nelson, the first Tiger qualifier since Emily Swartz in 2008, said.
Nelson essentially received a win to start the day, as she was given the top overall seed with Fain going on the doubles side of the tournament. South Hardin head coach Dan Nelson said having learning Danae was the top seed to start the day really got things started off great.
“Coming into today I didn’t know that Olivia was going to play doubles, so I was concerned Danae would even make it to state,” Dan said of his daughter. “It was fun to see that she went doubles and we had a chance, and now it’s going to be a blast. I am so excited for her.”
Even with the top seed, Danae didn’t have an easy path. She started the day with a match against Madi Schroeder from Independence, who she handled in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0.
In the next round Danae had her first taste of the Sailors, as she faced off with Grace Sullivan from Waterloo Columbus. That was the toughest of the first three rounds for the Tigers senior, but she managed to come away with a 6-3, 6-2, victory and move on to the semifinals.
Dan said Danae’s best quality on Wednesday was her ability to keep her mind on the task at hand.
“I thought mentally she was very sound and focused, and that’s exciting to see a girl like that who hasn’t had that much experience, yet she came in and was just determined and you could see it,” Dan said. “It was fun, very consistent, very calm, and she just took care of business.”
That mental toughness was put to the test before the semifinals, as Danae had to sit and wait for nearly an hour for the other singles quarterfinals to finish up.
“I didn’t know if that was going to be a good thing or a bad thing, but it was good to have a break,” she said.
Her break didn’t end up hindering her, however, as Danae rolled through Blanca Canizares from Iowa Falls-Alden in the semifinals, 6-0, 6-2, to earn her state qualification.
“I thought the last win I felt like I was doing a lot better with placing my hits,” Danae said. “I would say that last win I felt a lot more confident.”
Her day would come to an end in the championship match, where Anna Sinnott would take a 6-0, 6-3, victory.
Danae had the only wins of the day for the Tigers, but coach Nelson said there were still some good performances on the day. Meghan VanDePol was in a battle in her first match of the singles bracket against Haley Ledford from Fort Dodge St. Edmond that lasted over two hours.
Though Ledford would come out the victor, 6-3, 2-6, 6-0, Nelson said he was proud of how VanDePol worked.
“She is a fighter and it’s fun to watch her play,” Nelson said. “She’s improved so much this year, starting at No. 5 and moved up to No. 2, and she plays doubles with Danae. In fact they medaled in conference on Monday too, so it’s fun to watch these girls improve.”
Grundy Center/Gladbrook-Reinbeck was also in action at the regional tournament, and the doubles team of Reegan Zinkula and Amber Laube started their day by defeating Sarah England and Isabelle Sisson from South Hardin in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1.
The duo were ousted in the quarterfinals by Bella Fain and Elysse Trost from Waterloo Columbus, the eventual runner-ups, but head coach Joel Johnston said he was proud of how the girls played.
“I thought Amber and Reegan played about as well as they could do when they were playing against Columbus,” Johnson said. “They are extremely good and they put a lot of pressure on you, when you do get a second serve you almost have to hit a winner because they are going to return almost everything. They may think they had more in the tank but Columbus puts a lot of pressure on you and I thought they played well.”
GC/G-R’s season came to an end with no state tournament qualifiers, but Johnson said what his girls accomplished this season was outstanding.
“Last year I think we finished 3-7 in dual meets, and this year I know we finished 8-3,” Johnson said. “Amber and Hanna [Stahl] and Emily [Ehrig] will be tough to replace but we have four solid girls coming back.
“Reegan and my daughter Erika [Johnson] have played for three years and Leslie [Homeister] has come out and improved so much. She has a good shot at being our No. 1 next year. Then also Emerson Kracht is a great athlete and a great kid to have on the team.”