For Hayley Haakenstad, it was all about perspective.
Confident in her abilities and recognizing an opportunity she might never have again, the Chanhassen senior completed perhaps her best stretch of tennis in her high school career with an impressive 6-2, 6-2 victory over sophomore Bella Lambert of Minnetonka to win the Class 2A girls’ tennis singles championship Friday at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
“Basically, I was just confident in my game,” said Haakenstad, who lost to Edina’s Caitlyn Merzbacher in last year’s singles final. “Last year, Caitlyn played great. This year I was like, ‘Why can’t that be me?’ ”
Haakenstad battled nerves in her 2014 finals loss but credited that experience for her calm demeanor before and during the match with Lambert, who needed three hours to beat Edina’s Sophia Reddy in the semifinals. That lengthy match forced Haakenstad — who had won her semifinal over Meagan Brown of Elk River in about an hour — to wait nearly four hours before the finals got underway.
“Bella is a great player,” Haakenstad said. “I had been sitting around and she had a tough match. I knew there was an opportunity for me there.”
Lambert’s style of play is in stark contrast to Haakenstad’s typical high-energy offensive attack. Lambert is adept at returning even the toughest of shots and counts on frustrating her opponents. Having played Haakenstad many times in the past, both in high school and USTA matches, she saw right away that Haakenstad wouldn’t give in.
“She played so well,” Lambert said. “She kept me moving. I’d say that was the best she’s played against me.”
Haakenstad cruised through the first set. Lambert rallied in the second, winning the first two games. It was then Haakenstad recalled another memory from 2014.
“Last year, I took a two-nothing lead and it dissipated,” she said. “This year I said ‘What the heck? Why not?’ I just stuck with my game. My coach was just telling me to enjoy the moment.”
She clearly did, her serve-and-volley game finally wearing down Lambert. Haakenstad closed out the match by winning the final six games.
Afterward, Haakenstad credited her recent decision to play for Nebraska next year for her carefree approach.
“The recruiting process is such a stressful time because there are so many great places to go,” she said. “Once I made my decision, I felt like I checked something off my list. I felt like I could focus on my game 100 percent.”
The Class 2A doubles final was an all-sister affair. Benilde-St. Margaret’s twin sisters Paige and Taylor McLeod defeated St. Cloud Tech’s Taylor and Katelyn Tarolly 6-3, 7-5.