IOWA CITY — The storybook finish was writing itself for the Fairfield High School girls tennis team.
However, Dubuque Wahlert wrote the final chapter.
The Trojans, needing a sweep to complete an improbable comeback, had the Eagles where they wanted in the final doubles match of the day. However, Wahlert's team of Claire Walker and Abbe Peterson had few blemishes in two different tiebreakers to push the Eagles past Fairfield 5-4 in a Class 1A state first round meet Tuesday at the North Dodge Athletic Club.
Wahlert (14-5), needing 4 1/2 hours to win the meet, will play in the state final four June 1 in Des Moines, while Fairfield suffered heartbreak of the worst kind in a bid for its first trip, while also suffering its first dual loss of the season (12-1).
"We played really well today. We couldn't have been any closer to winning than we were," Fairfield coach Heidi Grunwald said. "We knew going into doubles that we had to leave it all on the court, and we did that."
Fairfield's Destiny Gridley and Tess Paton, who will play in the state tournament next week, seemed to have firm control of their match against Walker and Peterson to decide the meet. They opened with a convincing 6-2 win in the first set, then led 3-0 and 6-5 in the second set.
Then, Walker and Peterson played some of their best tennis. They sent the second set to a seven-point tiebreaker and won that, forcing a 10-point tiebreaker for the match. They won that as well, allowing Gridley and Paton to lead just once in the the two tiebreakers combined.
"They really started to play well at the net, and that's what we'd been doing," Grunwald said. "This was a really good learning experience for Destiny and Tess for next week."
Fairfield took a 2-0 lead on singles wins by Yana Gaskell and Anatta Charoenkul, as the duo lost just four games combined. However, Wahlert's depth in singles was stronger, as the Eagles claimed four in a row to finish out singles and place themselves on the cusp of the final four.
The Trojans had other ideas, as Gaskell and Nellie Higdon won at No. 1 doubles to pull within 4-3, then Charoenkul and Abby Schaefer pulled out a straight-set win at No. 2 doubles to square the meet, as both matches required the Trojans to dig deep and rally at some point. The momentum had switched and it showed in the scores at No. 3 doubles.
"I really didn't know what to expect against Wahlert. We'd never faced them before," Grunwald said. "I knew their top two players got to state, so we would really have to fight today. We left a lot of skin on the courts today."
All season, the Trojans continued to show a team capable of competing for a spot in the state final four. Their younger and more inexperienced players blossomed, and four players will compete in the state singles and doubles tournament next week in Iowa City. Charoenkul will aim for a third straight singles title, while Gaskell will look for her first after finishing second a year ago.
Grunwald is well aware of the team she has.
"Yana and Anatta helped us get here for sure," she said. "But everyone really stepped up all season. They've all played a part in us getting here. That is so awesome to see."
Class 1A state first round
at Iowa City
Dubuque Wahlert 5, Fairfield 4
Yana Gaskell (F) def. Anna Freiburger, 6-1, 6-1; Anatta Charoenkul (F) def. Caroline Hutchinson, 6-1, 6-0; Macy Vance (W) def. Nellie Higdon, 6-3, 6-2; Sydney Timp (W) def. Abby Schaefer, 6-2, 6-3; Morgan Herrig (W) def. Tess Paton, 6-4, 6-4; Clarie Walker (W) def. Destiny Gridley, 6-1, 6-1.
Gaskell/Higdon (F) def. Freiburger/Hutchinson, 6-3, 6-4; Charoenkul/Schaefer (F) def. Timp/Herrig, 6-1, 6-4; Walker/Abbe Anderson (W) def. Paton/Gridley, 2-6, 7-6(4), 10-7.
Chad Drury can be reached at email@example.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury