by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
This time it fell upon Jen Koehler to deliver the clinching point and the freshman came through Monday, sending the Elk River tennis team to “state” for the seventh straight year.
The Elks won all four singles and edged their perennial section rival Forest Lake 4-3 in the Section 7AA finals at Spring Lake Park’s indoor courts.
Koehler took a punch in the middle set but prevailed 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 at No. 2 singles over Taylor Angelo, then got mobbed by screaming, dancing teammates.
“That’s when it hit, me,” said Koehler, “that we were really going to state.”
Also still on the court was No. 1 doubles, where Hadley Purdy and Becca O’Connell had pushed Forest Lake’s Taylor Shortly and Bailey Norby to three sets but were trailing. The Rangers would win that match 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 to complete a sweep of doubles but the match was decided by then.
In five of the seven straight years the Elks have won section, they’ve beaten Forest Lake in the finals, including the last two years, 4-3 each year.
The Elks will take a 19-4 record into the state Class AA tournament starting next Tuesday at the University of Minnesota.
This year it was hardly sure thing as the Elks lack the depth and experience that most of the previous state teams have had. But they have played seven 4-3 matches and won six of them, including two on the playoff trail, the other being a 4-3 win over Andover in the second round where Kathi Opsdahl and Lauren Brayden at No. 2 doubles got the do-or-die point.
“We have played so many young girls this year and you don’t know how they will react,” said coach LeRoyce Chapman. “They all hit a lot of balls this summer to prepare, and they got the job done. I am so proud of all of them.”
Koehler cruised in the first set and got smacked in the second set, partially because she was “distracted” by the loud cheering by Elk supporters for Hadley’s and O’Connell’s match.
Plus, her rival got hot.
“She (Angelo) came up to the net and really attacked, and she stopped missing shots.”
Chapman saw what was happening and stressed focus during the break.
“She told me to NOT look at doubles, just look down, and concentrate,” said Koehler. Which she did.
“I kept hitting her deep and attacking long. I was hitting the shots I knew I could get in, instead of playing her game,” said Koehler.
Forest Lake, which lost to the Elks 5-2 late in the regular season, used the same strategy several teams have tried, beefing up doubles. Ranger coach Violet Shortly moved her one-two singles players, her daughters Taylor and Chase, to one and two doubles, respectively.
“I had some doubts at first, but it was the right way to go,” said coach Shortly. “We were hoping to sweep doubles and get two, three or four singles.”
Number one singles was out of the question. The Rangers served up Emily Riermann as sacrificial lamb to the Elks’ No. 6 ranked Michaela Schulz, who won 6-0, 6-0 and improved to 25-2.
“It’s so tough with Michaela in their lineup,” said Shortly, “because you always start the match down 1-0. Next year, when Michaela graduates, we’ll finally be able to start 0-0.”
Alyssa Karavitch and Annika Teske also won their singles points for the Elks.
The Elks, who placed third at state last year helped by some very favorable bracketing, will wait until the tournament is seeded before finding out who they’ll take on. For the first time, the top four seeds will be seeded this year by coaches’ vote.
Also at state
Centennial remains without a single state trip even though the Cougars have beaten state-bound Elk teams four times in those seven years, including the last three. The Cougars lost to their perennial foil Mounds View 5-2 in the Section 5AA finals.
Edina, seeking its 16th consecutive state crown, nipped Wayzata 4-3 for the Section 6AA title. Rochester Century ousted Mayo, last year’s runner-up, 4-3 in Section 1AA. Also set for state are Stillwater from 4AA, Bemidji from 8AA, and Prior Lake from 3AA.
Schulz advances in singles
Schulz advanced to the semifinals of singles with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Carlie Ridgeway of Grand Rapids later Monday. Semifinals and finals will be played Tuesday beginning 9 a.m. Purdy and O’Connell lost to a Grand Rapids duo 6-4, 6-3.
Elk River 4, Forest Lake 3
(1) Michaela Schulz, ER, def Emily Rierman 6-0, 6-0
(2) Jen Koehler, ER, def Taylor Angelo 6-0, 2-6, 6-1
(3) Alyssa Karavitch, ER, def Megan Anderson 6-2, 6-1
(4) Annika Teste, ER, def Risa Anderson 6-0, 6-2
(1) Taylor Shortly-Bailey Norby, FL, def Hadley Purdy-Becca O’Connell 5-7, 6-1, 6-3
(2) Chase Shortly-Lindsey Tilton, FL, def Kathi Opsahl-Lauren Brayden 6-2, 6-2
(3) Taylor Emily-Natalie Wright, FL, def Rebecca Lieser-Erin Reimer 6-2, 6-3