A long road

Senior Livia Leary and sophomore Sonya Ramesh are state-bound, but their road to the state tournament was anything but easy. The two top singles players for the Rosemount Irish, Leary and Ramesh knew they would be playing doubles with each other in the postseason since the start of the year. What they did not know is that they would have to play six matches in two days, including the second day that saw them play until almost 11 p.m. But they overcame adversity and took second in the Section 3AA doubles tournament to qualify for the state tournament at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center on Thursday, Oct. 25.

Leary and Ramesh cruised through their first three matches on Oct. 12 at the Lifetime Fitness Center in Lakeville. They beat a team from Humboldt 6-0, 6-0, followed that up with a 6-0, 6-3 win over the pairing from Cretin-Derham Hall and then finished the day by beating the team from St. Paul Central 6-1, 6-1. Three days later, the team faced some stiff resistance as they attempted to seal their state birth. They went three sets against a tough team from Visitation, coming from behind to win 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. In the section championship match, Leary and Ramesh fell to the team from Henry Sibley 6-3, 6-2. However, from there they were forced to play one more match to preserve their second-place finish-a True Second match against the team from Eagan who won their third-place match and had not lost to the Rosemount or Henry Sibley teams-which Leary and Ramesh took 6-4, 7-6 and finished just shy of 11 p.m.

Leary said that reaching state was an unlikely goal for her senior year.

"My No. 1 goal was to play the No. 1 spot (singles) for sure, and another goal that I honestly never thought would happen is making it to state, which both ended up taking place this year and I couldn't be more proud," she said.

Making it to state was also a goal for Ramesh, who described what it felt like to win that True Second match and know she and Leary were headed to state.

"We were ecstatic it was over and we had pulled out a win!" she said. "It was an emotional time for me and Liv. We had advanced to the finals before that so when we won the semi-final match we were so happy and jumping for joy."

Friends and teammates

While Leary and Ramesh are new to playing doubles with each other (outside of one tournament when they were younger, which Leary said was "very unsuccessful"), they have been friends and teammates for years, long before playing for the Irish. The two first met as young girls, and actually played each other in Leary's first ever tennis match, before they both went on to play for the Fred Wells Tennis program at the Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center.

Leary and Ramesh were exposed to tennis at a young age. Leary's mom (Sally) played in high school and college and introduced the sport to her two daughters, Anna and Livia. Leary also played basketball and for a long time said that basketball was her favorite sport.

"But once I got older I found more of an interest in tennis and actually quit basketball so that I could focus on tennis," Leary said. "The thing that I enjoy the most about tennis is the competition and focus. Being a tennis player is very challenging mentally, especially for singles players, the match is all on you, you have to pump yourself up and keep your confidence going and it can be very hard to stay positive."

Ramesh also started at a young age and like Leary played numerous sports until her love for tennis grew.

"I enjoy how fun the sport is and how you can build so many connections with other people from it," she said.

They both also had the opportunity to play with their sisters during their Rosemount tennis careers-Anna Leary and Tanya Ramesh, who graduated last spring-which they said was a huge part of their love for the sport.

"Tennis has always been the thing that bonded me and Anna," Leary said. "Playing tournaments, and dealing with the stress of it was a way that we always seemed to connect. Having my sister on the tennis team with me was the greatest thing, she was always my biggest supporter and for me, she was my absolute inspiration."

"Playing with my sister was so much fun, we would always support each other and cheer each other on," Ramesh said. "Not having her on the team (this season) felt different, but I also had my other teammates supporting me."

With Anna and Tanya graduating last year, Livia and Sonya found themselves as the oldest/most experienced players on the team and in leadership positions. Head coach Matt Knutson praised both for the roles they played this season, especially Livia who he said has not only improved greatly on the court but has also been such a role model to her teammates off the court and in practices.

"I'd say we (Leary and Ramesh) have gained a lot of respect from the other players and our coach and that's a really awesome feeling," Leary said. "When we were the rookies on the team it took awhile for the older players to gain respect for us and we definitely had to work for it, but now playing the role as the upperclassmen it's a lot of fun and I love setting an example for the newer girls."

Preparing for state

The two knew that they would be playing together this whole season, so they had time to practice together throughout the fall before sections hit. However, both said as singles players it is a major adjustment to switch to playing doubles, though their games have melded well."

"The biggest adjustment is remembering where to stand when up at the net and honestly just playing at the net in general," Leary said. "Me and Sonya both aren't big with volleys so we had to practice a lot on them."

"We are very similar players in terms of how we play so I think we mesh really well together," Ramesh said. "We each have our own strong shots that correspond with one another as well."

Leary and Ramesh will play at 10 a.m. at the Baseline Tennis Center on the University of Minnesota's campus on Thursday, Oct. 25. They take on the No. 4 seeded team from Rochester Mayo, seniors Emily Norman and Amalin Sorajja. Should they win, they would go on to play the winner of teams from Mounds View and St. Michael-Albertville that same day at 2 p.m.

"I'm going to take it with as little stress and worry as possible," Leary said about playing at state. "Just play my best tennis and really live up and soak in the experience."

"My mindset is just to play my best and work really hard in each and every match," Ramesh said.