by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The three-doubles team on Elk River’s tennis powerhouse usually plays on the farthest-away court in relative anonymity. Not so Tuesday.
Nathan Chanthamontry and Steve Delain found themselves the centers of attention as the top-ranked, unbeaten Elks battled Forest Lake in the Section 7AA championship match in St. Francis.
“Amazing. The most exciting time I have had in sports,” said Delain, a Spectrum senior who also plays on the Sting basketball team.
Chanthamontry and Delain notched the decisive fourth point in what would be a 6-1 win over the Rangers, who made the Elks sweat a bit by mixing up their lineup to strengthen doubles.
The Elks, who blitzed Duluth East 7-0 in the semifinals earlier in the day, will take a 28-0 record into their seventh consecutive state tournament, this time as the proverbial team to beat, starting next Tuesday against conference rival Maple Grove at the U of M.
Forest Lake conceded 2-3-4 singles, which the Elks won quickly by 6-0, 6-0 scores. But one-singles and one- and three-doubles were being hard-fought.
So when Chanthamontry and Delain won their first set 6-1 over Nate Reideman and Zack Buckley 6-1, then got up 5-2 in the second set, they drew an anxious crowd of Elk parents and coaches and players who were already done, ready to whoop and holler at the clinching point.
Except that the Forest Lake kids were not ready to congratulate the Elks. After Delain muffed a shot on match point, the Rangers, with new life, could do no wrong for several minutes and took a 6-5 lead.
Chanthamontry smashed a winner that regained momentum for the Elks. They tied the score 6-6 and went to tiebreaker, where they took a 4-1 lead on two straight double faults by the Rangers and hung on to win 7-5 with a smash by Delain ending it.
The partners hugged joyously for a moment, then were informed by coach Randy Ronning that they’d clinched a state trip for the Elks.
“We have put a lot of work into three doubles this year,” said Ronning. “Their record is very good and they have lost only to the elite teams.”
The Elks are 23-4 at No. 3 doubles with Chanthamontry playing all matches and Delain and sophomore Logann Bruns alternating.
Chanthamontry, asked if he knew what was at stake, nodded.
“We knew they had one lineup where our doubles points had to step up,” said the sophomore.
Elk co-captain Mitchel Brandell, who was playing on an adjacent court and losing for the first time all season, paid tribute: “Three doubles pulled through for us, and I’m very happy for them.”
Brandell and Matt Odegard at No. 1 doubles faced the best high school player in the state, three-time state singles champion Dusty Boyer, along with Ryan Renard, a regular doubles player. The Elk duo took the first set 6-3 but lost the next two, each 6-2.
Coaches are required to submit three possible lineups. Ronning knew that Forest Lake coach Gregg Patchin had submitted one with all three dubs bolstered by singles players and Toby Boyer, Dusty’s brother, moved up to No. 1. Still, Ronning was surprised when the Rangers trotted them out during introductions.
“Their lineup was very unconventional and I did not expect it,” said Ronning. “It was a smart move on his part because it gave them a chance to get four points. The three we won were 6-0, 6-0, and the other four were very good matches.”
Boyer, bidding to become the first four-time state singles champ, was happy to give up his one-singles slot and have some fun in doubles.
“We knew that was the only way we could win,” said Boyer. “We had four strong singles last year but our number four quit, to play baseball. We are not a super deep team and had to try to sweep doubles.”
About the match against two outstanding Elk seniors, he said, “They served really well the first set. They must have made 90 percent of their serves. When we started to get some serves back they started missing more shots.”
The one-dubs match didn’t turn out to be critical, but was one of the most interesting bouts of the season so far.
“We were confident we could win that point and we had a good first set,” said Ronning. “Dusty made some mistakes early but he settled down. Obviously we can’t beat Dusty. We had to beat the other guy.”
Brandell and Odegard are not accustomed to being overpowered, but Boyer did so several times.
“He definitely hits the ball hard. He’s a very good player,” said Brandell, a friend of Boyer’s at the Moore Lake club.
Meanwhile, Elk seniors Dylan Berger and Jesse Bragg at No. 2 doubles stayed undefeated for the season with a close decision over Zach Decker and Hunter Shortly 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.
Sam Gearou, Ryan Ness (the Elks other remaining unbeaten) and Josh Chuba had the quick singles wins.
At No. 1, Josh Gearou lost a set to Toby Boyer, then won one, and it was over. Patchin elected to have Boyer forfeit the meaningless point, with singles and doubles competition starting later in the day.
Elks face Maple Grove
Maple Grove, which beat Mounds View 4-3 for the Section 5AA crown, is the Elks’ first-round foe at state next Tuesday. The Elks beat the Crimson (18-2) in conference play 5-2 on April 12/
“They had a fantastic season,” said Ronning. “Their coach really thought they could beat us on another day and now we’ll play again.”
This will mark the first time the Elks have met another team from the same conference at state.
Elk River 7, Duluth East 0
(1) Josh Gearou, ER, def Bauer LeSavage 6-0, 6-0
(2) Sam Gearou, ER, def Mike Leliberte 6-0, 6-1
(3) Ryan Ness, ER, def Bill Renier 6-1, 6-0
(4) Matt Odegard, ER, def Martin Schneder 6-0, 6-2
(1) Mitchel Brandell-Josh Chuba, ER, def Peder Norr-Kevin Seiler 6-2, 6-3
(2) Dylan Berger-Jesse Bragg, ER, def Kevin Flaherty-Brenden Berro 6-2, 6-4
(3) Nathan Chanthamontry-Logann Burns, ER, def Phil Beavlieau-Andrew Zimmerman 6-0, 6-1
Elk River 6, Forest Lake 1
(1) Josh Gearou, ER, def Toby Boyer 1-6, 6-1, forfeit
(2) Sam Gearou, ER, def Austin Riedeman 6-0, 6-0
(3) Ryan Ness, ER, def Austi Morris 6-0, 6-0
(4) Josh Chuba, ER, def Sam Hamilton 6-0, 6-0
(1) Dusty Boyer-Ryan Renard, FL, def Mitchel Brandell-Matt Odegard 3-6, 6-2, 6-2
(2) Dylan Berger-Jesse Bragg, ER, def Zach Decker-Hunter Shortly 7-6 (7-4), 6-4
(3) Nathan Chanthamontry-Steve Delain, ER, def Nate Reideman-Zack Buckley 6-1, 7-6 (7-5)