Wildcats win SSC tennis, aim for state return

Ferg wins decisive match 4 days after surgery

Under ordinary circumstances, a straight-set victory is just another day on the tennis court for Eagan’s Lauren Ferg, a three-time All-South Suburban Conference player.

The circumstances in Eagan’s 4-3 victory over Eastview last week were anything but ordinary. The Wildcats clinched the undisputed SSC girls tennis championship that day, something they might not have accomplished had Ferg not played four days after having her appendix removed.

“I knew that match was going to be very close and my point would be important,” Ferg said. “The doctor said I wasn’t going to hurt myself any more by playing. It was a matter of being able to stand the pain.”

The Eagan-Eastview match started Sept. 15 but was halted because of rain. Because it was a suspended match, the Wildcats could not substitute for Ferg at No. 3 singles when the teams resumed play Sept. 29. Either she played, or the Wildcats would forfeit the point – and, in all likelihood, lose the match.

Serving underhand because it hurt too much to serve conventionally, Ferg won 6-1, 6-2 to improve to 17-0 for the season. The sophomore, who’s already seventh all-time at Eagan in career victories with 78, is a big reason the Wildcats won the South Suburban championship for the first time and are ranked third in Class AA.

Ferg said she first felt discomfort in her abdomen Sept. 22, but played through it and won her point in a match against Lakeville South. By Sept. 24 the pain had intensified, prompting her parents to take her to a doctor. The next day, her appendix came out.

Eagan coach Scott Nichols said his first inclination was to forfeit Ferg’s match and let her recuperate for the Section 3AA tournament, which begins for the Wildcats on Friday. But he left the decision to Ferg and her parents, and they determined Ferg was healthy enough to play.

“Her health was everybody’s biggest concern, but she really wanted to give it a shot,” Nichols said. “She’s tough, and she knew what that match meant for us.”

The Wildcats, 17-2 overall, went undefeated in nine South Suburban Conference matches. Their only losses in the regular season were to 19-time defending state Class AA champion Edina and state Class A power Blake. A 5-2 victory over Prior Lake, the defending South Suburban champion and ranked second in the state at the time, might have been Eagan’s biggest.

“I’ve been coaching for 17 years and this is quite possibly the best team I’ve had,” said Nichols, whose team finished fourth in the 2015 state tourney. “We’ve been strong in singles for a few years, and we have good leadership with our five seniors.

“Now, we’re better in doubles. Last year we didn’t win a doubles match the entire state team tournament. This year we have some strong players who are still getting better.”

The regular singles lineup of Samantha Nichols, Eesha Varma, Ferg and Raechel Murray is a combined 64-8. Chloe Asuncion, a senior captain, anchors the top doubles team. Halle McGuire and Taylor Luecke both are 16-3 in doubles. Sisters Avalon and Haven Langley moved to Eagan from Tennessee and have strengthened the doubles lineup.

Taylor Luecke and her sister Allie were recruited from Eagan High School’s table tennis team. Taylor Luecke, a hockey player, and McGuire, a softball player, had limited tennis experience but almost unlimited athletic ability, Scott Nichols said.

In the Section 3AA tournament, the Wildcats will have to fend off teams such as No. 2 seed Woodbury and third-seeded Rosemount. They received a bye in the first two rounds of the playoffs and will play host to Simley or St. Paul Harding in a quarterfinal match at 4 p.m. Friday. The section team championship match will be Oct. 13 at Lifetime Fitness in Lakeville.

Samantha Nichols is the top seed in singles in the Section 3AA individual tournament that begins Oct. 14. Ferg and Varma are seeded second in doubles.

First, however, the Wildcats want to get back to state as a team. Ferg said she expects to be close to 100 percent when they play their section quarterfinal match Friday, which can only help Eagan’s cause.

“We know we have a good shot at going back to state, and we think we can do well there,” Ferg said. “We’re not overconfident, but we’re confident.”