by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The defending state champion Elk River Elks served noticed that they’re still on the short list of state contenders by defeating the Edina Hornets 4-3 at home Saturday morning, sweeping the four singles matches.
“They were ranked second in the state,” noted Josh Chuba, who won at No 3 singles. “It shows we are an elite team and can play with the top teams.”
The Elks, with six new starters this year, are ranked No. 7, and have a 4-3 loss to No. 6 Burnsville on their ledger, along with 4-3 wins over No. 3 Maple Grove, No. 10 Minnetonka and unranked Stillwater.
So, beating the most durable (20 state titles) tennis program in the state will be very helpful if they make state again, because state pairings will be seeded this year, for the first time.
Assistant coach Tom Ness credited the Elks with mental toughness in dealing with adverse conditions — 45 degrees and a stiff wind.
“These are both good, solid teams,” said Ness, “and I think we were mentally stronger with regard to playing in tough weather.”
That includes No. 1 singles where Josh Gearou upended top-ranked Max Olson 7-5, 6-3 to break the 3-3 tie. Gearou rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the first set.
“Bad weather can get frustrating,” said Ness. “Max lets the wind bother him sometimes, and make more mistakes, where Josh is able to shrug off (lost points) and go on to next point.”
The Elks beat the Hornets for the first time last year, 5-2, at home in the regular season (they didn’t meet at state), so this marks two straight years beating one of the state’s best high school programs in any sport.
“Actually, three, in my mind,” said coach Randy Ronning, who felt the 2012 team would probably have beaten Edina, too, but the match was canceled due to bad weather that year.
“But,” he added, “that still means we have about a hundred miles to go to catch Edina in terms of their history.”
That history includes several state tournament wins over the Elks.
On this morning, along with Josh Gearou, the Elks had Sam Gearou at No. 2, Chuba at No. 3 and Nathan Chanthamontry at No. 4 all winning in straight sets.
Chuba posted a 6-1, 6-4 decision over Jon Yang that tied the score at 3-3.
“I served pretty well, and was able to finish the big points I needed. I struggled a little, but was able to bounce back,” reflected Chuba.
Asked how they felt about their prospects against Edina, he said, “We always know we have a chance. It’s whether we can execute and play to our ability, We played up to our potential today.”
Edina swept the doubles, all in straight sets, but Ronning commented that the Elk doubles were competitive and have improved significantly. Five of the six doubles players are first-year starters.
“We are not a rookie team any more,” he reminded the team. “We’ve got 29 days before state and a lot of work to do.”
Elk River (16-1) and Edina each beat Maple Grove and Minnetonka 4-3, while Edina has won 6-1 over Burnsville, the team that beat the Elks. The Hornets have lost to both top-ranked teams, Wayzata (AA) and Blake (A), each by 6-1. The Hornets also lost to Breck 6-1 with two starters missing.
Josh Gearou, ranked No. 7, completed an impressive week with victories over No. 1 Olson and No. 10 Zach Adkins of Maple Grove, along with Centennial’s Burke Olson, who’s not ranked but reached the final eight at state last year. This season, Gearou has lost to No. 6 Toby Boyer of Forest Lake and No. 8 Joey Richards of Minnetonka.
The Elks will host Minneapolis Washburn and Chisago Lakes on Monday, a late adjustment to the weather-wracked schedule. Those will probably close the regular season unless a makeup date for the Park Center match can be found.
Elks 4, Edina 3
(1) Josh Gearou, ER, def Max Olson 7-5, 6-3
(2) Sam Gearou, ER, def Zander McDonald 6-1, 6-2
(3) Josh Chuba, ER, def Jon Yang 6-1, 6-4
(4) Nathan Chanthamontry, ER, def Mirza Humerovic 6-1, 6-3
(1) Tyler Kuck-Michael Thompson, Edi, def Logann Bruns-Noah Steichen 6-2, 7-5
(2) Mitch Tuttle-Spencer Olson, Edi, def Joe Wetherille-Nick Tran 6-3, 6-1
(3) Aanik Lohani-Michael O’Neil Ed, def Tyler Creelman-Zeke Delain 6-0, 6-2