LODI — When Lodi seniors Alex and Anya Armbrust opened last week’s Beaver Dam Wayland Sectional with a victory, the twin sisters were the last ones to find out they had qualified to play in the Division 2 doubles bracket at the WIAA State Girls Tennis Tournament.
“We were under the impression that we had to win two matches (to qualify for state),” Alex said of her reaction after their 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Maggie Burgmeier and Grace Smith of La Crosse Aquinas at last week’s sectional. “We won our first match and our coach got all emotional. … We were thinking he must have a lot of confidence in us that we were going to win our second match.”
Turns out Lodi’s No. 1 doubles team only needed the one victory to advance to the state tournament, where they will begin play at 7 p.m. Thursday night with an opening round match against Onalaska Luther sophomores Phoebe Christenson and Jenna Wahl.
The trip to the state tournament for the Armbrust sisters is the next act of a tennis career that got started only four years ago, when the summer before their freshman year, they decided to take tennis lessons at Cherokee Country Club in Madison.
According to Alex, her and her sister have come a long ways since taking those lessons.
“When we first picked up the rackets at Cherokee, we were exponentially bad,” Alex said. “We couldn’t hit into the courts. (Four years) isn’t that much time, but working together for four years contributed a lot to what we did.”
Lodi head tennis coach Joe Birkholz said both Alex and Anya showed natural ability during their freshman season, but lacked a lot of the other traits needed to be a successful doubles team.
“They were really good at hitting the ball when they first came in,” Birkholz said. “They’re natural athletes, but they never really knew where to put the ball, or why they were doing what they were doing. They were just going through the motions. Over the last two years, they really started to figure out how to beat a team rather than play with a team.”
Not only did the sisters improve their knowledge of the game in their four years with the Lodi program, but they also took things more seriously, especially as juniors last fall, when they were promoted to the team’s No. 1 doubles position.
And once the sisters realized they could seriously make a push at becoming Lodi’s first doubles team to advance to the state tournament since Brooke Deans and Brittany Storhoff qualified in 2006, they began putting in more time on the courts in the offseason.
“During those four years I was just having fun, and if we made it to state, that’s a big accomplishment, but I didn’t think we were going to go,” Anya said. “But this year, I think we really changed that, because we were working hard, and I think it was a bigger possibility for us this year.”
As sisters, Alex and Anya share a bond that most other doubles teams don’t have. They both agree that it is easier for them to communicate with each other, and they often know what each other is thinking during the match. But the sisters also said there are times when they aren’t getting along.
“We do communicate a little bit, but not when we get mad at each other. Then it gets a little rough,” said Alex, who admitted that Anya is better at controlling her emotions on the court when that happens.
“She will get mad, but we’re still communicating,” Anya added. “I kind of know what she’s thinking. I know what she’s going to do. I know what I have to do if she gets mad.”
Birkholz said it’s not rare for doubles partners to sometimes get upset with each other when things aren’t going well during a match, but Alex and Anya seem to handle it well when that happens.
“They do get along really well for the most part. And even when they fight, if they have an incident during the match and one of them gets mad at the other one, they will be mad at each other, but they’re still playing exactly the same,” Birkholz said. “I think the fact they are sisters allows them to get over it a little bit easier.”
Thursday’s opening round contest against Christenson and Wahl will be a rematch from last week’s third place match at sectionals, that Christenson and Wahl ended up winning 6-3, 6-3. Alex and Anya enter the match with a 17-4 record, while Christenson and Wahl are 24-5 on the season. The winner will likely advance to play Edgewood’s Grace Drake and Kinsey Kessel, who are seeded sixth out of the 28 doubles teams in Division 2 field.
Both Alex and Anya are looking forward to testing their skills against some of the best high school tennis players in the state.
“Our goal is to just have fun,” Alex said. “I know there is going to be a lot of good teams there. It’s our senior year, so I feel like we’re there, win or lose, just to make it count for our last year.”