Double trouble: Anderson, Robinson use focus, strategy to soar to first state tournament
Peanut butter and jelly, cake and ice cream, coffee and doughnuts - just a few things that go well together. So too do East Ridge's Taylor Anderson and Natalie Robinson.
Last week, Anderson and Robinson - East Ridge's No. 1 doubles team - became the first Raptors tennis players in history to reach the State Tournament.
While many other programs group two of their better singles players together at the end of the year to form formidable doubles pairings in order to make a run at State, Anderson and Robinson played together all year long, forming a bond that helped them take their games to the next level.
"I think we complete each other really well," Robinson said. "Taylor is really good at the net and I'm pretty good at the baseline. We can keep each other calm and are just a good pair."
East Ridge head coach Jon Rydberg knows a few things about doubles tennis.
Rydberg, who was injured in an accident when he was 13 months old and is now in a wheelchair, has represented the United States on the international stage a number of times. He recently won doubles gold in the 2011 Parapan American Games with his partner Steve Welch.
"They're on the same page," Rydberg said. "They're good doubles strategists. We harp on playing good positioning on doubles and being aggressive when they have a chance. They've been able to execute. It's a combination of a good game plan, being aggressive and execution. They've been doing that all year long."
Anderson, a junior, and Robinson, a freshman, went 16-0 in East Ridge's dual matches this year, including a perfect 9-0 record in their Suburban East Conference matches. That helped the duo earn the No. 1 seed in the Section 4AA tournament.
Rydberg said, at the start of the season he knew they'd be good - he just didn't know how good.
"They rolled through the conference and solidified their spot as a really good team," Rydberg said. "As they just kept beating team after team, I kind of started to think they'd end up to be a really good doubles team. They proved it at the end."
Anderson has been playing varsity tennis for East Ridge since she was in eighth grade - the first year the new school opened in Woodbury. She's been playing doubles the majority of the time over the last four years. She and 2011 graduate Emily Mueller were the Raptors' No. 1 doubles pairing a year ago. Mueller and Anderson fell to the top seed in a three-set match in last year's section quarterfinals.
Robinson has played tennis since she was 4 years old, when her grandma taught her how to play. She made East Ridge's varsity team as a seventh grader and is now in her third season with the Raptors. Last year, Robinson played singles for East Ridge after playing No. 1 doubles with twin sister Nicole as seventh graders.
"We started out the year with goals, but I wasn't sure we really thought we'd make it to state, because it's so hard to do," Anderson said. "As the year progressed it kind of became more and more real that getting to state was a realistic goal.
"The biggest thing is our focus. Natalie and I really balance each other really well. We have fun, but we work really hard and we work really well together. Communication is really important."
In the Section 4AA tournament, because they were the No. 1 seed, Anderson and Robinson earned a first-round bye. In their first match of sections the duo beat Jackie Ellingson and Shelby Anderson of Stillwater 6-3, 6-4. Then, later in the day, they won a big three-set match 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) over Cretin-Derham Hall's Shay Eiden and Molly Hynes in the quarterfinals. A win in the semifinal round would mean Anderson and Robinson would qualify for the state tournament. However, the unseeded team of Helen Klass-Warch and Jada Konop Defreitas from St. Paul Central stood in their way. It wouldn't be easy as the St. Paul Central tandem upset two seeded doubles teams to reach the semifinals. However, Anderson and Robinson dispatched the Central duo in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the section final and qualify for State.
"It was a really good feeling to know we were going to State," Anderson said. "To know we accomplished that goal feels really good. Both Natalie and I were on cloud nine after that match. It was kind of surreal actually."
Robinson said she was "excited" to top St. Paul Central and reach the state tournament, but that beating Cretin-Derham Hall was the greater win in her opinion. Anderson played Hynes in USTA tennis in the offseason. Shay is the Raiders' No. 1 singles player and went to State in doubles last year.
"The Cretin win was definitely a bigger deal than beating Central," Anderson said. "We've always had a tough time with Cretin. I knew both of them and knew that was going to be a really tough match. We gave our coach a heart attack."
In the State doubles competition, the Rochester Century sibling duo of junior Katherine Aney and ninth-grader Jessica Aney may be the team to beat. Jessica won the singles state championship title last year and is the top-ranked player in this year's final coaches poll. Also expected to be formidable is the Edina pairing of senior Morgan Marinovich and sophomore Mackenzi Marinovich and Minnetonka's duo of senior Bri Smith, who was ranked No. 11 in this year's final poll, and ninth-grader Theresa Tebon, along with Stillwater's Savannah Johnson and Aliza Deming, who beat Anderson and Robinson 6-4, 6-3 for the Section 4AA Championship. Johnson and Deming were the Ponies' No. 2 and 3 singles players this year, respectively.
"They know there's going to be other players in there that are going to be really, really talented," Rydberg said. "We hope our ability to play good doubles can make up for any difference when we have to play against really, really good singles players. They had their goals and they met them. Now it's kind of if they want to go above and beyond those goals."
Anderson and Robinson begin their tournament with a match against a pair of seniors from Centennial - Kelly Jachymowski and Courtney Klair. The two teams will face off on Thursday, Oct. 25, at 10 a.m. at the Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.
"We want to go pretty far," Robinson said. "This is our year. We don't really know these teams, but we think we have a chance to beat them. I'm really excited. It's both nerves and excitement."