Sweet on the outside and ferocious on the inside.
It’s just one way to describe Fallon native Haley Jorgensen before and during a tennis match.
For all her good-natured, respectful and super-duper outlooks on life, the St. Mary’s (Minn.) freshman is the opposite on the court. A deep desire to win and never give in attitude has Jorgensen as one of the Cardinals best players in her rookie season in Division III.
But her journey to the courts in college was a path filled with uncertainty, intimidation and questioning.
During her senior season at Churchill County High School, Jorgensen knew she wanted to attend a small university. She found her second home in Winona and soon ventured into the office of women’s tennis coach Jeff Halberg.
Halberg, though, said he didn’t know much about Jorgensen’s game, just she had been a state-qualifier for the Greenwave in doubles. Since Jorgensen was lightly recruited, she walked on and went through the trials of the fall season.
“She wasn’t a total known quantity,” Halberg said. “She was an experienced player and offered us that ability and the ability to improve as well.”
A challenging road
It’s hard to fathom a college freshmen with only four years of tennis experience coming into their first season, and standing toe-to-toe with some of the best players in their conference.
Jorgensen has only played for five years, while most of her teammates and opponents have graced the courts since they were in elementary or middle school.
Many of her knew shots were acquired through the tutelage of her teammates, while perfecting them came from one-on-one time with Halberg.
“If you want to work on something, he will take time out of his schedule to hit with you,” Jorgensen said of Halberg.
While the pseudo-tryout was nerve-racking and stressful, she didn’t find out she actually made the team until the Cardinals’ first match of the season Feb. 1 against Carleton College. Jorgensen said Halberg relayed the news about 5 minutes before the match.
“He said, ‘Oh yeah, you are going to play No. 6 singles,’” she said laughing.
What Jorgensen has accomplished in her first season, though, is a testament to her desire, not only on the court but off as well. With only two matches remaining in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) slate (today and Saturday), Jorgensen has posted one of the best records for the Cardinals. She stands at 10-6 overall (11-7 including the fall season) and 3-2 in doubles play, while the team is in seventh place. The top six schools qualify for the conference tournament.
Unfortunately for Jorgensen and some of her teammates, the MIAC does not have a conference tournament for individuals.
Jorgensen, though, is in the midst of a three-match losing streak after posting six consecutive victories from Feb. 1 through March 16. Despite the funk, Jorgensen is tied for second in singles with 10 wins with Lindsey Reinisch and trailing Megan Vandenberg by one victory.
“First of all, when I came to St. Mary’s I didn’t think I would make the team,” she said. “Now that I made the team, I thought I probably won’t play in any matches. Now that I’m playing matches, I probably won’t win any of those matches.
“I did not expect myself to do this well. I didn’t think I had it in me, but I pulled it out.”
Jorgensen is quick to credit her teammates and coaches for her rapid improvement. She has added various shots to her repertoire plus a greater understanding of the game.
“They are all super-duper nice and I love them all,” Jorgensen said of her teammates. “We have one girl, Katie (Krull), who hits the ball harder than I ever seen anyone hit. There are people who are super-duper consistent and others who have great placement.”
Perhaps her biggest hurdle, though, was discovering her true game. In high school, Jorgensen played doubles, which allows for partners to mask each other’s weaknesses.
Once she reached St. Mary’s campus, Halberg moved her to the singles game, where Jorgensen has found her comfort zone. While she does not possess a full arsenal as some of her teammates, Jorgensen has relied on defensive tactics and taking what her opponents give her.
“I’m a defensive player and I’m really consistent and that’s how I win my matches,” she said. “I realized consistency is my game and that works really well in singles. It’s not a quick win, usually.”
Her biggest asset, meanwhile, is her desire to win. She has undergone four three-set matches with the longest lasting three-and-a-half hours. And of the four marathon matches, Jorgensen has won three including one a 3-6, 6-3, 10-4 victory over Larissa Voss of Bethel University to seal a team victory for the Cardinals.
The three-set marathons, however, are yet another obstacle Jorgensen was forced to overcome.
High school tennis in Nevada follows a different format than in most other states. Instead of playing against an opponent in a best-of-3 scenario, singles players and doubles teams play in three rounds consisting of on set each against rotating opponents.
As Jorgensen has made the leap to the collegiate level, she now plays by standard rules.
Facing the same opponent for three sets puts on display a players mental toughness and physical conditioning.
“We did training in the offseason, which helped,” Jorgensen said. “I fight with all I got. If I’m down a set and win the second … I just tell myself I am going to fight for this.”