by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It wasn’t a match for any kind of championship but it felt a little like one when the Elk River tennis team toppled Wayzata 6-1 at home on Monday.
Especially when that victory capped a decisive 5-0 run through five of the toughest teams in the metro area over a four-day period and left the Elks 12-0 and likely to take over the No. 1 metro ranking.
“Better watch out for Elk River,” said senior Mitchel Brandell, when asked it meant after the Elks beat Centennial (6-1) on Firday; Red Wing (7-0), Mahtomedi (4-0, rain-shortened), and Eagan (5-2) on Saturday; and now Wayzata.
Wayzata, state runner-up last year, won 4-3 over Eden Prairie, then the Star-Tribune’s top-ranked metro team, on April 16.
“This should give us No. 1, in the metro area anyway,” said Brandell, alluding to outstate power Rochester Mayo, the defending state champion.
Regular-season tennis matches normally end with a some mild-handshaking. This one ended with hugging and leaping and high-fives. Parents lined them up for a team photo and the players put their arms in a “zero” position to indicate no losses yet. The Elks knew they’d established themselves as firmly in the running.
“What we learned is that we are not crazy when we think we might be able to win the state championship,” reflected coach Randy Ronning. “These are all state-level teams.”
He added, “What I like best is that when matches get close, we play better. We have a great record in three-setters and a great record in tiebreakers … I knew we have a lot of talent, but you never know how they will perform under pressure until you play the top teams.”
Josh Gearou and Ryan Ness in singles won three-setters, as did Dylan Berger and Jesse Bragg in doubles, and Brandell and Josh Chuba won a first-set tiebreaker. Winning in two sets were Sam Gearou (quickest with 6-1, 6-1) and Matt Odegard in singles and Brandell/Chuba. Wayzata’s Jack Gavey and Jason Kabrowski won at 3-doubles to avert a shutout.
Berger, one of six seniors in the top 11, said the Elks were eager and ready for this challenging stretch of the schedule.
“We were not quite sure we could win them all, but we knew we had worked hard enough to win them all, and we certainly came ready to play,” said Berger. “We are feeling pretty good about it.”
Added Ness, another senior: “We were definitely looking forward to this, to see how we would stack up against some of the best teams in the state. And we got good results.”
The players were mindful that it’s just mid-season, nothing has been proven and there are other strong teams out there. “After this, we will be confident, and move forward, and just keep it at that,” said Ness.
The Elks have gone to six straight state tournaments, and eight overall, without winning a title.
A year ago, the Elks lost at Wayzata 6-1 in a match where they just missed on a couple other points. They wound up placing fourth at state, with one senior.
“We’ve been looking forward to this since the day we got on the bus at Wayzata after that 6-1 loss,” said Ronning.
The Elks will resume conference play at Andover on Tuesday.
Elk River 6, Wayzata 1
(1) Josh Gearou, ER, def Nick Beaty 3-6, 6-2, 6-3
(2) Sam Gearou, ER, def Matt Tropsha 6-1, 6-1
(3) Ryan Ness, ER, def Jason Lee 6-2, 4-6, 6-3
(4) Matt Odegard, ER, def Hank Lee 6-2, 6-3
(1) Mitchel Brandell-Josh Chuba, ER, def Jack Graven-Jake Strom 7-6 (7-2), 6-2
(2) Dylan Berger-Jesse Bragg, ER, def Matt Halverson-Steel Kowalcke 2-6, 6-3, 6-3
(3) Jack Gavey-Jason Kabrowski, Wyz, def Nathan Chanthamontry-Logann Burns 6-1, 6-2