by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
If ever an opponent seemed poised to end Elk River’s seven-year conference win streak in boys tennis it was this year’s Maple Grove Crimson.
However, the defending state champion Elks fended off the Crimson 4-3 at home Thursday, extending their NWSC streak to 68 matches.
Technically it was an upset as Maple Grove was ranked No. 3 and the Elks were No. 8, but both sides knew the Elks were No. 1 in the conference until somebody proved otherwise.
“Maple Grove has been getting closer every year,” said Elk River coach Ronning. “Last year he (J.C. Lippold, Crimson coach) thought he had a team that could beat us, but we beat them twice, in conference and state. They graduated two players, and we graduated six, so, he figured they had a good shot this year. And they are a very good team.”
The Elks are 8-0 in the NWSC and 14-1 overall. This was the Crimson’s first conference loss. The Elks have Park Center and Anoka left on the conference schedule.
Maple Grove had lost only to Wayzata and Edina, the teams ranked 1-2, while the Elks had lost to No. 4 Burnsville (4-3) and edged unranked Stillwater (4-3), hence the lower ranking.
The Elks took a 3-2 lead with wins on three adjacent courts. Josh Chuba and Nathan Chanthamontry won at 1-doubles. Soph twins Josh and Sam Gearou cruised at 1 and 2 singles, beating Crimson sibs Zach and Charlie Adkins. The Josh Gearou-Zach Adkins match pitted two top-ten-ranked players and Josh ruled the day 6-1, 6-0.
Maple Grove countered with straight-set wins at 3 and 4 singles by Sam Hochburger and Rory Calabria.
That left No. 2 and No. 3 doubles on the courts. The Elks won the first set in each but the Crimson were up in the second set in both. Ronning fretted at bit — that’s how the Elks lost to Burnsville, a pair of doubles 3-set losses where they’d won the first set.
Not to worry. Logann Burns and Noah Steichen pulled out a clinching 6-2, 6-4 win over Jacob Enders and Nathan Nemeth, rallying from a 4-1 deficit in the second set.
“We kind of figured we’d be the fourth point,” said Burns, one of the Elk captains.
Burns said their opponents were quite nervous at first, and he and Steichen took advantage to win the set 6-2. But the Crimson duo shook it off and forged ahead 4-1 in the second set. “They were playing fantastic, with spring in their step, and a lot of cheering each other,” said Burns.
Burns and Steichen found another gear, though, and took the last five for a 6-4 win and the clinching point. “We started making more shots,” said Burns. “We had some close calls but we had the upper hand in the big points.”
Ronning made one tweak to the lineup, shifting Chuba from 3-singles to 1-doubles with Chanthamontry. Chuba has been virtually an automatic point.
“I wasn’t sure where our fourth point would come from,” explained Ronning, “and we knew they’d be pretty tough. Josh at 3-singles would have been a really good match, too.”
The Elks have won 10 in a row after Burnsville snapped their 37-match win streak on April 27. The Elks had hoped to surpass a 42-match win streak by Elk teams in the early 1960′s when there was no team post-season.
However, the Elks have put that setback to good use.
“It was sad to lose to Burnsville because we lost our chance at that record,” said Burns, “but that turned our season around. Every day since then we have come to practice devoted to getting better.”
The Elks might not be finished with Maple Grove this season, as both have a chance to win their section again and advance to state.
The Elks will host Anoka on Friday and Edina on Saturday.
Elk River 4, Maple Grove 3
(1) Josh Gearou, ER, def Zach Adkins 6-1, 6-0
(2) Sam Gearou, ER, def Charlie Adkins 6-1, 6-4
(3) Sam Hochburger, MG, def Joe Wetherille 6-4, 7-0
(4) Rory Calabria, MG, def Nick Tran 6-1, 6-0
(1) Josh Chuba-Nathan Chanthamontry, ER, def Trevor Kleineschay-Derrick Marvin 6-3, 6-4
(2) Logann Burns-Noah Steichen, ER, def Jacob Enders-Nathan Nemeth 6-2, 6-4
(3) Trevor Gifft-Vinura Withancewasam, MG, def JordanHaack-Zeke Delan, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3