by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The tee-shirt the Elk River tennis team chose for its latest state tournament provides both a nice keepsake and an apt explanation for a trip that couldn’t have gone much better.
” All the pieces fit — just like our shirt says,” coach LeRoyce Chapman reflected happily after the Elks beat Rosemount 4-3 in the third-place match Wednesday.
The Elks (23-5) beat Mahtomedi 5-2 and Rosemount in duels of unranked teams, sandwiched around a 7-0 loss to top-ranked and once-again-champ Edina, at the two-day meet at the U of M, and matched their second-best state finish in eight trips since 2002.
They donned tee-shirts illustrated with the state of Minnesota broken into a jigsaw puzzle of 13 pieces, each labeled a varsity player’s name, and the declaration, “Elk River Girls State Team 2011: All the Pieces Fit.”
Everything fell together as luck of the draw put the Elks where they avoided all the top-five-ranked teams except Edina, and gave them two winnable matches, which they capitalized upon.
“The girls wanted it so bad and they worked so hard all year,” said Chapman. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of them.”
In happy tears at the end of the match was senior Kelsey Rausch, who teamed with sophomore Kathi Opdsahl to produced the fourth, clinching point, a 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 conquest of Rosemount’s Rachel Hoffman and Rachel Olson at No. 3 doubles. Two matches were still going, and the other one, No. 1 doubles, eventually lost.
“I’m just so glad I could win my last match,” said misty-eyed Rausch, “and especially to be the fourth point to win for the team.”
Rausch is a first-year starter, and she and Opsahl had lost against Mahtomedi and Edina, so her 21st career, and first and only state, victory was especially sweet.
“We just couldn’t lose that one,” said Rausch, whose hard smashes and ace serves helped the duo rally from a 6-5 deficit in the first set and take a 4-0 lead in the second, a string of six straight games.
Michaela Schulz at No. 1 singles made several unforced errors and lost the first set 6-4 to Virginia Norder, whom she’s beaten many times in recent years. She started the second set with a clenched jaw and laser-eyed concentration. The rest of the match, she dominated 6-1, 6-0.
“I hit deeper,” she said, “and I just wanted it more. To show people what I can do.”
Ali May Kuebelbeck at No. 3 lost her second set. She and Schulz, two courts apart, started the third set at the same time, locked eyes for an instant, grinned confidently, and proceeded to win 6-0.
“I was just upset that I lost the second one,” said Kuebelbeck.
Also nabbing their first win at state were sophs Hadley Purdy and Becca O’Connell at No. 2 doubles, a three-setter against Megan and Emily Harrington.
“We worked together as a team and played as one (unit),” said Purdy about the clutch 6-1 third-set win.
About playing in the state tournament (the second time for both), she said, “The intensity level is definitely amped up. It’s very exciting.”
Fun brushing with Edinasty
Edina swept aside the Elks 7-0 on the way to their 15th consecutive state championship.
The Hornets beat Rochester Mayo 5-2 in the finals. They had also blanked Mounds View 7-0 in the first round.
The Elks dropped Camille Kraljic and Kuebelbeck into doubles and managed to take a few games there but all seven matches were straight-sets. Schulz lost 6-1, 6-2 to No. 4-ranked Caroline Ward at one-singles.
All the Elks insisted it was a good time.
“Challenging,” said Opsahl’s cheerful one-word assessment.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Kuebelbeck. “How many times do you get a chance to play Edina in the state semifinals?”
“We had fun,” said Purdy, elated to take four games in a 6-2, 6-2 loss. “It wasn’t the prettiest, but we just went out and played. We didn’t have much to lose.”
“Getting to play Edina is an amazing opportunity,” said Chapman. “They actually make their opponents better. You raise the level of your game, even if the scores don’t show it. We had fun, and we were able to hit with them.”
“It’s Edina,” Schulz shrugged. “It’s fun going against them. They have really good players. I got to play Caroline and I enjoyed that.”
State tourney history
The Elks have now finished second once, third twice, fourth once, fifth twice, and sixth and seventh once each, in eight state trips. They’re overall record there is now 12-11. The program has managed at least one win in every trip except 2010.
Three Elks will be playing in individuals state Thursday and, they hope, Friday. Kraljic and Katie O’Connell face Maya McGibbon and Sydney Baldwin of Minnetonka in the first round. Schulz faces St. Paul Central’s Helen Klass-Warch.
Edina 7, Elk River 0
1- Caroline Ward, E, def. Michaela Schulz, ER, 6-1, 6-2
2- Meghana Vasireddy, E, def. Jennifer Koehler, ER, 6-0, 6-1
3- Maddie Boyer, E, def. Kelsey Rausch, ER, 6-0, 6-0
4- Bridget Kluesner, E, def. Katherine Opsahl, ER, 6-4, 6-3
1- Morgan Marinovich & Mackenzie Marinovich, E, def. Camille Kraljic & Catherine O’Connell, ER, 6-1, 6-1
2- Meghan Herring & Kelly Reger, E, def. Taylor Lussier-Flesher & Ali May Kuebelbeck, ER, 6-1, 6-2
3- Caroline Ruwe & Gretta Hellmuth, E, def. Hadley Purdy & Rebecca O’Connell, ER 6-2, 6-2
Elk River 4 Rosemount 3
1- Michaela Schulz, ER, def. Virginia Norder, R, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0
2- Alison Baker, R, def. Camille Kraljic, ER, 6-0, 6-4
3- Ali May Kuebelbeck, ER, def. Mariah McGivern, R, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0
4- Kirsten Hoffmann, R, def. Jennifer Koehler, ER, 6-4, 6-2
1- Layna Mestad & Abby Kohagen, R, def. Catherine O’Connell & Taylor Lussier-Flesher, ER, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1
2- Hadley Purdy & Rebecca O’Connell, ER, def Megan Harrington & Emily Harrington, R, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1
3- Kelsey Rausch & Katherine Opsahl, ER, def. Rachel Hoffmann & Rachel Olson, R, 7-6 ( 7-3 ), 6-2