by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
What better way to wrap up a perfect regular season than to whip a 24-time state champion whom you’ve never beaten before?
The Elk River tennis team did just that with a 6-1 conquest of the Edina Hornets at home Saturday.
“It’s definitely a big deal,” said Elk senior Mitchel Brandell, whose six-year varsity career has seen four losses to Edina, two of them in state tournaments.
When Jesse Bragg and Dylan Berger at No. 2 doubles wrapped up a 6-3, 6-4 win, the Elks had a 4-0 lead and clinched their 25th win.
“We just beat Edina!” coach Randy Ronning beamed, savoring the concept, as greeted some parents after congratulating the two-dubs team.
“Edina has that mystique going,” he reflected, after the match. “Hopefully we proved today that we’ve gotten rid of one (barrier), that you can’t beat Edina.”
Brandell and Josh Chuba got the Elks started as they won quickly at No. 1 doubles, 6-3, 6-3.
“We were both serving well, and returning pretty well too, and we got on a roll end of first set,” said Chuba. Beating Edina “means a lot, most of all because it helps us get ready for state, because they are a state contender, too.”
Ryan Ness at No. 3 singles and Sam Gearou wrapped up wins soon after, making it 3-0.
Berger and Bragg, seniors who are 21-0 together, struggled a bit with serving early on but were soon breaking Edina’s serve every time and prevailed 6-2, 6-4.
“When it was 5-4, he (Ronning) told us if we won it would be the fourth point,” said Bragg. “So that was nice (to get the clincher).”
(The Elks got a nice windfall when Bragg, who had been 22-2 at one-singles on an otherwise poor high school team in North Carolina as a sophomore, showed up in the summer of 2010 to visit his mother. Bragg decided to stay here rather than return to live with his dad, who’s in the U.S. Marines in North Carolina. “It was partly because I heard the tennis team was really good, partly to be close to a big city, and partly because it’s a good school,” said Bragg.)
With the team win already in hand, Josh Gearou and Matt Odegard at No. 1 and No. 4 singles, who each lost the first set, came back and won the next two — averting the prospects of the Elks’ first 4-3 score of the season. Gearou, who is not ranked in the top ten, beat No. 5 Mark Olson 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).
The Hornets averted the shutout by winning No. 3 doubles.
Edina has slipped a bit the last couple years, although that’s in comparison to a program with 24 state crowns. They won their last title in 2010 and have remained a top-ten team but have not reached state the last two years.
Their ledger this year includes 4-3 wins over No. 5 Minnetonka and No. Rochester Mayo (when Mayo was missing two of its best players) and Class A’s No. 1 ranked Blake, and 4-3 losses to No. 3 Wayzata and No. 4 Eden Prairie.
“They are good enough even this year to win it all,” said Ronning, “if they just turn a couple of those around.”
Elk River’s 25 wins have included 15 by 7-0, six by 6-1, two by 5-2, plus rain-shortened 6-0 and 4-0 wins. And the Elks are 5-0 against other ranked teams, including No. 9 Edina.
“When the kids saw our schedule, they asked, you still think we can go unbeaten? And I told them, ‘Yes, i do,’ ” said Ronning.
For what it’s worth, the Elks are ranked only behind defending state champion Rochester Mayo. That’s something that could change before “state,” considering that Mayo has lost to three teams (Edina, Wayzata and Mahtomedi) whom the Elks have beaten.
The Elks, who’ve been to eight state tourneys without winning one, have a week off to work on their games and figure out who to enter in singles and doubles for post-season individuals. They will begin Section 7AA sub-section team at home on Monday, May 21.
Elk River 6, Edina 1
(1) Josh Gearou, ER, def Mark Olson 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4)
(2) Sam Gearou, ER, def Tyler Kuck 6-1, 6-1
(3) Ryan Ness, ER, def Zander McDoald 6-0, 6-2
(4) Matt Odegard, ER, def Jon Yang 3-7, 7-6, 6-w
(1) Mitchel Brandell-Josh Chuba, ER, def Mitch Tuttle-Kevin Williamson 6-3, 6-3
(2) Dylan Berger-Jesse Bragg, ER, def Spencer Olson-Michael Thompson 6-2, 6-4
(3) ER, def Peter Batdorf-Elliott Sharman, Edina, def. Nathan Chanthamontry-Logann Burns, 6-3, 6-4