While the team win was out of reach late Thursday afternoon, New Life Academy junior Jessica Gross wasn’t deterred.
Gross overcame a first-set lost against her North St. Paul opponent to win her match 6-7 (7-4), 6-4, 11-9. The win, at No. 2 singles, gave New Life a 4-3 loss to North St. Paul instead of a 5-2 loss.
“We had some heroic playing that went on,” coach Marcia Bussey said, also noting a three-set comeback by Elena Draheim and Gracie Chermak at No. 2 doubles. “(Gross) just did the most amazing play and she covered the courts just like you’d want her to cover.”
The loss dropped New Life to 7-10 heading into the final week of the regular season. The Eagles faced Como Park on Monday, Park in a scrimmage Tuesday, and plays Southwest Christian on Wednesday before the Class 1A, Section 1 team tournament begins Thursday.
Bussey, as of Saturday, did not know who New Life Academy would be facing in the first round of sections. The Eagles have played every team in the section except Rochester Lourdes and Lake City, going 2-3.
Lourdes, ranked No. 4 in Class A, is arguably the top team in the section, with a 12-1 record as of Saturday. That section also includes: Cannon Falls, which has been ranked as high as ninth, Stewartville, Winona Cotter, St. Croix Lutheran and Trinity at River Ridge.
It also includes top individuals in Trinity’s Katie Mulvey (No. 5), Winona Cotter’s Cindy Li (No. 6) and Rochester Lourdes’ Clare Palen (No. 7).
New Life Academy defeated St. Croix Lutheran and Trinity earlier this season but lost to Cannon Falls, Stewartville and Winona Cotter.
The Eagles faced Rochester Lourdes in the first round of the playoffs last year and lost. Bussey said she expects her team to be seeded around No. 6 this year.
That could change, though, depending on how New Life closes the season. And if Thursday was any indication, the Eagles aren’t going to coast into the playoffs.
They started the North St. Paul match with a win by Tori Moorman at No. 3 singles. That was followed by four-straight losses, giving North St. Paul the match — but not the monopoly on determination.
“Even though it was a loss, 4-3, I think everybody felt good about how they played,” Bussey said.