Becker's 100th career win catapults Saints to Big South Conference title

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

Last Thursday, the Saints looked to exact revenge on the Blue Earth Area Bucs in the Big South Conference championship match, and, with the match tied at 3-3, Ellie Becker rallied after to dropping the first set against Tea Armstrong to clinch not only the conference title, but her 100th career win.

To set the stage for the decisive battle at #1 singles, the Saints earned key wins from their first and second doubles teams. Jaelyn Haler also secured a win at #2 singles.

Blue Earth Area countered with wins at #3 and #4 singles, as well as third doubles.

Last year, Armstrong beat Becker three separate times in the postseason.

In last year's Big South Championship match, Armstrong knocked off Becker 7-5, 6-4, in what was a tense all-around match in St. James.

Armstrong also got the best of Becker (and Haler) in the individual section tournament, as Armstrong and Arika Howard defeated the top two Saints 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 to clinch a spot in the state tournament.

In the team sections, Armstrong once again beat Becker, 6-2, 6-0.

On Thursday, after Armstrong took the first set 6-4, it seemed like more of the same from the two rivals.

"After the first set I knew I didn't play my best," said Becker. The second set I thought 'I can do this, I can get some more games off her this time."

But Becker dug deep, rallied, and flipped the script on Armstrong taking the next two sets 6-4, 6-3.

At the time, Becker didn't realize that her match was the deciding one.

"It made me feel a lot better about my match that the team won and that was the final point."

Becker's 100th tally makes her the 14th girl's tennis player to accomplish that feat and the eighth of the decade.

The senior captain broke onto the varsity roster as an eighth-grader, and following an ACL injury to her older sister, Zoie ('18), made a jump from third doubles to #2 singles. Following Zoie's return, Ellie was bumped back to #3 singles before taking the reigns at #1 singles last year.

Due to COVID-19 eliminating tournaments, non-conference matches, and in all likelihood, the state tournament, Becker's number could have approached her sister's mark of 112.

Coach Les Zellmann has now seen both the Becker girls reach the 100 win mark, and sees some differences in the styles of the two sisters.

"Zoie overall was a very good baseline player," said Zellmann. "Her not game was not as refined as Ellie's. Ellie is an all-court player, and Zoie was more a baseline player. You can't say that one is necessarily better, but its personas and game styles."

Zellmann also praised Ellie's leadership and character off the court.

"A lot of it is her persona, her personality. You can not, in my opinion, not like her. She has charisma and she's a great role model the kids. She practices well. Her personality is such that you just want to be around her."

The all-time mark for career wins is held by Renata Hernandez ('18) at 146.

"It's just fun knowing that previous people who I know who have kind of been there for me as I was growing up, now I'm following them to where they were in high school," said Becker.

The nail-biting win is St. James' fourth Big South Conference title in seven years.

"It was a very, very fun match to watch," said Zellmann. "It was so competitive in so many areas, but what was most fun was to watch the finish where it comes down to number one's. To have Ellie Becker win in three sets after losing the first set is a big win for her personally and for the team, it has got to be, in my coaching career, in at least the top ten I've ever seen as far a finish. It might be even top five." 

The Saints begin their quest for a section championship on Thursday at the St. James courts.

St. James Co-op- 4 Blue Earth Area Senior High- 3


No. 1 - Ellie Becker, St. James Co-op def. Tea Armstrong, Blue Earth Area, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

No. 2 - Jaelyn Haler, St. James Co-op def. Marissa Benz, Blue Earth Area, 6-4, 6-3

No. 3 - Arika Howard, Blue Earth Area def. Mya Hanson, St. James Co-op, 6-1, 6-3

No. 4 - Addison Armstrong, Blue Earth Area def. Eva Romsdahl, St. James Co-op, 6-2, 6-3


No. 1 - Gabriela Trapero/Sailor Mohlenbrock, St. James Co-op def. McKenna Dutton/Kylie Rosenau, Blue Earth Area, 6-1, 6-1

No. 2 - Samantha Tetzloff/Allison Bluedorn, St. James Co-op def. Britt HowardLyndsey Borris, Blue Earth Area, 7-6 (3), 6-4

No. 3 - Cali Beyer/Olivia Dutton, Blue Earth Area def. Emma Anderson/Sofia Solorzano, St. James Co-op, 6-0, 6-3