It turns out that Rochester Century's youngest player was not only its best player, but also its most experienced. So who better to lead the Panthers into unfamiliar territory?
Having ended Rochester Mayo's streak of 15 consecutive Section 1 championships, the Panthers' next step was to try to stay balanced on the seesaw of the Class 2A state girls' tennis tournament, where the ever-changing dynamics and large crowds have been known to wreak havoc on tourney neophytes.
Led by their freshman ace Jessica Aney, who won the Class 2A singles championship in 2011 as an eighth-grader, the Panthers showed they weren't overwhelmed by the surroundings. They defeated perennial state tournament entrant Mounds View 6-1 in Tuesday's Class 2A team quarterfinals.
Aney denied offering advice to her teammates -- "I'm just letting them figure things out on their own, like I did," she laughed -- but her presence at the top of the singles lineup and her past success was more than enough for the Panthers to build upon.
"I don't think Jessie knows how much the team looks up to her, particularly on the court," coach Josh Heiden said. "They see the way she goes about her business and know that she's been successful."
Aney, who has owned the No. 1-ranking in Class 2A all season, pointed the way with a convincing 6-2, 6-1 victory over Summer Brills, who was ranked No. 2 in the final state rankings.
"Jessie has obviously been a leader on this team," said older sister Katie, a junior who won at No. 3 singles Tuesday. "We've seen what she can do. We were all so excited to be here, but we wanted to channel that excitement into our play on the court."
As successful as the Panthers' season has been, the task gets markedly more difficult in Wednesday's semifinals, when they will face Edina, winners of 15 consecutive titles.
Edina, the tournaments' No. 1 seed, had little trouble in its quarterfinal match, beating Elk River 6-1. The Hornets looked every bit like a team unwilling to give up its spot at the top.
They swept all but the No. 1 singles match, where Maddie Boyer fell to Elk River's Michaela Schultz in three sets, and lost just 11 total games in their six victories.
Like so many of their victories, Edina made a difficult task look easy. But that is one of the few drawbacks to playing for the state's most dominant high school program, said Edina senior and captain Meghan Herring.
"A lot of people at school come up to us and say 'Oh, you guys always win'" said Herring after a victory at No. 1 doubles with teammate Morgan Marinovich. "But we work really hard. We put in a lot of hours, especially in the summer. It doesn't just happen."
In the other Class 2A quarterfinals, No. 2-seeded Minnetonka put its match-tested mettle on display, downing Stillwater 7-0.
No. 3-seeded Prior Lake, making its first state tournament appearance since 1991, got past St. Cloud Tech 5-2.Class 1A
Blake, the defending state champs, showed why it is considered the undisputed favorite to win again, dominating Staples-Motley 7-0. The Bears lost just one set in seven matches -- at No. 3 doubles -- and only three total games at singles.
Blake will face Waseca, a 7-0 winner over Osakis, in one of Wednesday's semifinals. The other semifinal will pit Annandale, which won a pair of three-set matches en route to a 4-3 victory over Virginia, against Rochester Lourdes. Lourdes, which has won 14 of the past 16 Class 1A titles, beat St. James 4-3.