by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River will make its sixth consecutive trip to the state tournament in girls tennis after grinding out a pair of 4-3 wins at Section 8AA on Monday.
“This one was the toughest,” said Katie O’Connell, who’s helped the Elks win four section titles, and had a major role on this one.
The Elks beat Duluth East 4-3 after dropping the first three matches completed, then loaded up doubles to beat Forest Lake 4-3 in the finals, at Arrowhead Courts in Duluth.
“It’s been a really long day, an incredible day,” said coach LeRoyce Chapman. “The girls played with amazing grit and fire and determination.”
The Elks won five of six doubles points in the two matches while Michaela Schulz cruised twice at No. 1 doubles.
O’Connell was on the spot twice, playing No. 1 doubles, the final match on the court against each opponent, the score 3-3 each time.
“We knew it was up to us,” said O’Connell.
O’Connell and her usual partner, Taylor Lussier-Flesher, seesawed past their Duluth East opponents, losing the first set, winning the second barely, falling behind 4-1 in the third set, then turning on the jets to win 7-5.
“We just decided we did not want to lose — that it wasn’t just us, it was the whole team,” said O’Connell.
She then teamed with Camille Kraljic to win straight sets against a Forest Lake duo they’d beaten at home three weeks ago. Katie and Camille were comfortable together.
“We’ve played together since first grade,” said O’Connell about Kraljic, who usually plays No. 2 singles now.
The Elks (21-4) were more vulnerable this year than in any of the first five section titles in their 8AA dynasty but found a way to sneak through again.
Section singles and doubles play started Monday night and will conclude on Tuesday. Elk section qualifiers are Schulz in singles, and O’Connell-Kraljic and Kuebelbeck-Lussier Flesher in doubles.
The Elks will meet the Section 4AA champions, Mahtomedi at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Baseline Tennis Center at the U of M, in the first round of state.
In the same bracket are Mounds View vs. Edina. In the other bracket are Rosemount vs. Brainerd and Rochester Mayo v s. Minnetonka.
Elks 4, Duluth East 3
Come-from-behind was Elks watchword the whole match, capped by Lussier-Flesher and O’Connell rallying to win the final set No. 1 doubles.
The two seniors won 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 over Sarah Zimmerman and Grace Heyer, losing the first set, eking out the second set (they led 5-2, gave up three games, then won two), then storming back from a 4-1 deficit in the third set.
“What we had to do was get up to the net and not just hit the ball but place it in the right spot,” said O’Connell.
They got most of the points in the rally up at the net.
The East duo was “a very good team,” she said. “Both of us were on and off during the match.”
Lussier-Flesher said she’d never been in this spot before, going for the fourth point with the score 3-3. She found it to be rather exhilarating.
“It actually helps your focus. It’s a great motivating factor,” said Lussier-Flesher.
The reward was nice, too.
“We got mobbed, definitely,” she said. “There was lots of hugging.”
Duluth East won the first three matches completed — at No. 3 and 4 singles, and No. 3 doubles — and just about made it 4-0 with an extremely close match at No. 2 doubles. But Elk sophomores Hadley Purdy and Becca O’Connell pulled that one out 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).
Michala Schulz and Camille Kraljic took the courts and each won in straight sets, leaving the score 3-3 and everything up to Lussier-Flesher and O’Connell.
The match was played indoors at Arrowhead Courts which had just four courts, so the matches were slow-going.
(1) Michaela Schulz, ER, def Caroline Skinner 6-0, 6-0
(2) Camille Kraljic, ER, def Alisa Hoyer 6-3, 6-2
(3) Ann Heyer, DE, def Ali May Kuebelbeck 6-3, 6-2
(4) Kendra Berry, DE, def Jen Koehler 7-5, 7-5
(1) Taylor Lussier Flesher-Katiie O’Connell, ER, def Sarah Zimmerman-Grace Heyer 2-6, 7-5, 6-4
(2) Hadley Purdy-Becca O’Connell, ER, def Johannah Saari-Taylor Armstrong 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 (7-5)
(3) Anna Grace Norr-Paige Kidd, DE, def Kelsey Rausch-Kathi Opsahl 6-2, 7-5
Elk River 4, Forest Lake 3
The Elks loaded up doubles for the Rangers, a team they edged 4-3 in a home quadrangular Sept. 24. After moving their 2-3 singles players down to fortify 1- and 2-doubles, and dropping 2-dubs to 3-dubs, they swept those points and got their almost-automatic win from Michaela Schulz at 1-singles to pull out another section championship.
“Forest Lake is a really deep team, strong in both doubles and singles,” said Chapman. “If we played them straight-up, it would be too close for comfort. Terry (Grzbowski, her assistant) and I both felt we had to load up doubles and be sure to get those four points.”
O’Connell and Kraljic at No. 1 and Aly May Kuebelbeck and Lussier-Flesher at No. 2 won in straight sets, while Hadley Purdy and Becca O’Connell at No. 3 lost a set before winning two.
“Elk River played at an extremely high level in doubles,” said Chapman. “The girls knew they had to get to the net and could not hold anything back. They had to play at their top the entire time.”
(1) Michaela Schulz, ER, def Jackie Unger 6-1, 6-2
(2) Taylor Shortly, FL, def Jen Koehler 6-0, 6-0
(3) Rachel Bostrom, FL, def Kelsey Rausch 6-1, 6-1
(4) Jade Haseltine, FL, def Kathi Opsahl 6-3, 6-2
(1) Katie O’Connell-Camille Kraljic, ER, def Bailey Norby-Chase Shortly 6-2, 6-4
(2) Aly May Kuebelbeck-Taylor Lussier Flesher, ER, def Emily Rearman-Taylor Angel 7-5, 6-3
(3) Hadley Purdy-Becca O’Connell, ER, def Natalie Wright-Lindsey Tilton 2-6, 6-1, 6-3