FAIRFIELD – Physically, Tess Paton was struggling on Wednesday afternoon.
Even as the Fairfield senior was closing in on clinching a second straight trip to the Class 1A girls state tennis tournament, Paton was breathing deep trying to hang in physically late in her third match of a hot and humid afternoon at the Fairfield Middle School tennis complex.
Paton got the most important win of the day out of the way, finishing off a 7-5, 6-1 win over Davenport Assumption senior Lexis Timmerman in the regional semifinals. It would take every bit of the 30-plus minutes between the final two matches of the day for Paton to recover before taking on Timmerman's teammate, Mary Rolfstad, in the regional championship singles match.
"It was exhausting. The heat really kind of took it out of me," Paton said. "Playing someone as good as Mary in the finals, as well as everything I had to do to win my previous three matches, was definitely a battle mentally and physically.
"It's good practice to make sure I'm in good spirits and ready to compete at other levels."
Paton, a third-place finisher at last year's 1A state singles tournament, will get one more chance to become Fairfield's third individual state champion in the past six years. Despite recovering well enough to win the opening set of the regional final, Paton will head to state as the runner-up out of 1A, Region 7 after losing a tough 4-6, 6-2, 1-0 (10-7) battle with Rolfstad in the final match of a long and grueling day of postseason tennis.
"I definitely needed to take my full break between matches. I definitely needed to remain hydrated," Paton said. "It was pretty brutal out there. I needed to make sure I was eating and drinking to keep my energy up, but I also needed to stay mentally focused."
Paton will be joined this year in the 1A girls state singles tournament, which begins on May 27 at the to the University of Iowa tennis complex in Iowa City, by Albia senior Tanae Thiravong. Seeded second in the Region 8 tournament at Pella Christian, Thiravong earned her first state tennis tournament ticket on Wednesday with wins over Knoxville sophomore Kate Schneider, Davis County junior Maddie Warning and Pella Christian junior Laurey Johnson advancing the regional finals before falling in the championship match to top-seeded Pella sophomore Emily Blom.
"It's always good to compete at a high level. I'm looking forward to the challenge," Thiravong said. "I didn't really set any expectations on how the day was going to go. I just went with the flow."
Lily Fenton, who edged Thiravong on Saturday to win the singles title in the Fairfield Maharishi Invitational, fell one win short of qualifying for the 1A state singles tournament for the second straight year. After dropping just two of 26 games in straight-set wins over Mount Pleasant sophomore Eliana Situmeang and Fort Madison freshman Brianna Wright, Fenton lost a pair of 6-2 sets to Rolfstad in the regional semifinal before winning 6-1 and 6-2 over Timmerman in the third-place match.
"Going from 60-degree weather to 90-degree weather is a huge change. It took some time to get used to," Fenton said. "I had confidence in my shots, continued running to the ball and moving my feet. The ice box helped a lot. It was hard as the tournament went along to keep moving as well as I did earlier in the day."
Fenton's Maharishi teammates, Daira Valls Blazquez and Saraswati Quevedo-Valls, finished fourth in the regional doubles tournament coming up one win short of a state tournament berth after edging Keokuk teammates Adi Robinson and Jaelyn Johnson in a thrilling 11-9 third-set tiebreaker that decided the opening-round match. After a 6-3, 6-1 win in the regional quarterfinals, Maharishi's normal No. 3 doubles team would battle eventual regional champions Ella Dilulio and Allison Halligan eventually falling in a pair of 6-1 semifinal-round sets.
"Our girls kept their heads up in terrible heat," Maharishi head girls tennis coach Lawrence Eyre said. "I'm really delighted to see how they played. I know they're tired as can be."