By Brenden West Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — When finally there was room to breathe, the River Queens could only cheer.
The state of Iowa’s team tennis championship came all the way down to a grueling, 11-point doubles tiebreaker with Clinton’s Jordan Nelson and Gabby Haan eyeing glory against Urbandale’s Brynn Reichardt and Kayla Dinshaw. The Queens were hours removed from overcoming the toughest challenge they’d yet to face -- second seed Ames High School -- where, in the semifinals of the Class 2A state team tournament, they’d narrowly grinded out a 5-4 victory.
The ball was in Nelson’s hand, with the team score tied 4-4, meaning the winner of the tiebreaker would seal the top prize for her team.
“We were down 1-4 in the second set and we came back and tied it,” Nelson said. “The tiebreaker was super close. I went back to the back fence, and Gabby came back and started talking to me, encouraging me.
“I thought to myself, ‘I need to get this... I need to win this for my team...’”
Nelson stepped up to the line and ripped, what coach Cindy Rashe said was a serve “so hard, they didn’t have a prayer of touching it.” Game. Set. Championship.
“I throw my racket down and run to Gabby,” Nelson said. “I was so excited.”
Haan and Nelson were joined by their raucous teammates. A day later, they returned to Clinton High bearing medals around their necks, smiling ear-to-ear and with a community ready to praise them. It’s the first team tennis title in Clinton history.
On Sunday, Athletic Director Gary Lueders and superintendent Deb Olson joined to congratulate them in the high school auditorium. Olson, an avid CHS tennis admirer, stated the end result was well-deserved for the hard working coaching staff and players.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team here,” she said. “I believe it was the late 1980s the last time we had a team championship in girls sports at Clinton High School. It’s truly remarkable.”
Olson thanked Rasche and assistant, former head coach, Barb Brondyke for their efforts over the years. Clinton has finished 30 consecutive years first or second in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
Rasche took the podium and gave personal testimonials of each member of the team. Joining her on stage were Nelson, Haan, Shannon Shovlain, Griffin Rasche, Rubina Vidal, Samantha Brisch and alternate Avan Colah.
“These girls have worked together to meet every challenge every step of the way,” Rasche said. In fact, Clinton overcame five tiebreakers between the finals and semifinals to win state. The River Queens won both matches, 5-4.
“Only together as a team could these girls meet their final goal, which was to win the state championship. We are very proud of your accomplishments ladies.”
Rasche also received praise from Lueders, who presented the coach with the Golden Plaque of Distinction -- the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union’s coach of the year award.
“A well-deserved honor,” Lueders said.
Clinton is poised for more success in the next several years. The team graduates only one of its top six players, Vidal, who added that a state title was the perfect sendoff.
“We know that the whole team has to come, we rely on the whole team,” Vidal said. “It was really exciting that it was a whole team effort.”
With more success looming, Cindy Rasche was asked if she expects similar success next year.
“We already said, it’s time for a repeat next year. We have a lot of depth on our team so that definitely helps us,” she said.
But, as she said at the reception, “Next time you’re there, can you make it not so close?”
Class 2A Iowa Girls State Team Tennis Tournament
CLINTON 5, AMES 4
Singles -- Ann Ku (A) def. Griffin Rasche (C), 6-1, 6-2; Judith Fan (A) def. Rubina Vidal (C), 6-0, 6-2; Jordan Nelson (C) def. Elise Hill (A), 4-6, 6-4, 1(9); Samantha Brisch (C) def. Taylor Thoen (A) 1-6, 6-1, 1(4); Gabby Haan (C) def. Elizabeth Nutty (A) 6-2, 7-6(6); Shannon Shovlain (C) def. Umnia Mahgoub (A), 6-3, 6-3.
Doubles -- Ku/Thoen def. Rasche Vidal, 6-2, 4-6, 1(4); Fan/Nutty def. Nelson/Haan, 1-6, 6-3, 1(10); Brisch Shovlain def. Hill/Mahgoub, 6-1, 6-3.
CLINTON 5, URBANDALE 4
Singles -- Michelle Van Roekel (U) def. Rasche, 6-3, 7-6(8); Vidal def. Madeline Heer (U), 7-5, 6-4; Nelson def. Abby Hart (U), 6-4, 6-1; Brynn Reichardt (U) def. Brisch, 7-5, 6-2; Kayla Dinshaw (U) def. Haan, 6-4, 6-2; Shovlain def. Madeline Trott (U), 6-4, 7-6(9).
Doubles -- Van Roekel/Heer def. Rasche/Vidal, 6-2, 6-0; Nelson/Haan def. Reichardt/Dinshaw, 4-6, 7-6(3), 1(11); Brisch/Shovlain def. Hart/Trott, 6-2, 7-5.