by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River-Zimmerman tennis team snagged every state-qualifying slot but one in Section 8AA this year.
Elk juniors Mitchel Brandell and Ryan Ness emerged as doubles champions in a grueling field that included their eighth-grade teammates Josh and Sam Gearou, who finished second, on Wednesday in St. Cloud.
Elk sophomore Josh Chuba, normally a No. 1 doubles player, was singles champion, sweeping through the field that was depleted by many of the section’s top singles players opting for doubles — including all four Elk singles players.
This domination came on the heels of the Elks (23-2) winning their fifth straight team team title Tuesday.
Brandell and Ness, who play 3-4 singles, beat Josh and Sam Gearou, who play 1-2 singles. They did so in both sub-section and section competition and wound up 6-0 together.
Brandell and Ness each qualified for state individuals for the first time. The Gearou’s went last year and reached the state doubles semifinals.
“We will have two excellent doubles teams down there,” said coach Randy Ronning. “Both of them have a good chance to go far. I hope the draw goes well.”
Ness and Brandell edged the Gearou’s twice, 6-4, 7-5 in sub-section last week, and 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 in the section semifinals Wednesday.
Ronning said he didn’t anticipate that turn of events.
“I am not surprised that both matches were close, but I’m a little surprised they won,” said Ronning. “The matches have been close in practice, too, and Sam and Josh would win.
“Ryan and Mitchel brought their best game. They were the strongest servers in the tournament.”
Brandell and Ness then beat St. Cloud Tech’s Tyler and Riley Bates 6-4, 6-1 in the championship match.
The Gearou’s bounced back to beat Michael-Albertville’s Tyler Shustarich and Matt Odegard 6-2, 7-5 in the third-place match and earned a true-second match against the Bates brothers, and won that one, too, 6-1, 6-0.
About the win over the Gearou’s, Brandell agreed that strong serving was a big key. He added, “You have to be patient against them and hit the ball where they’re not. They are very fast. ”
Chuba defeated Fergus Falls’ No. 1 singles player Jake Johnson 6-2, 6-3 in the finals, after beating a pair of No. 3 singles players including Tech’s Chris Mavetz 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals.
“A lot of the top players went to doubles,” noted Ronning, “and from that next tier of players, it looked like Josh had a chance. He really raised his level of play. He had a big serve, and he had the best return of serve, too. He’s six-two and it’s hard to serve past him.”
Chuba usually plays one-dubs with Zak Steichen and occasionally Ness.
“I’ve played a few singles matches, and I think doubles helps my singles play,” said Chuba.
Steichen, who got through sub-section singles in the fourth-place slot, lost his section opener to Johnson 6-1, 7-5.
State tournament schedule
In the first round of Class AA team on Tuesday at the University of Minnesota Baseline Center, Rochester Mayo meets Eden Prairie at 8 p.m., followed by Elk River vs. Eastview at 10 a.m., Wayzata vs. Mounds View at noon, and Mahtomedi vs. Forest Lake at 2 p.m. The losers play again Tuesday in consolations.
On Wednesday, the Mayo-Eden Prairie winner meets the Elk-Eastview winner at 8 a.m., followed by the Wayzata-Mounds View winner vs. the Mahtomedi-Forest Lake winner at 10 a.m. Fifth place will be at noon, third place at 2 p.m. and championship at 4 p.m.
The state singles and doubles competitions are held Thursday and Friday.