by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
An eighth-grader and a sophomore in their first varsity seasons wind up in the state tournament, and in their case it’s not one of these we’re-just-glad-to-be-here-situations, because their team is the defending state champion.
During their first state match, the duo learns that their point might decide the outcome. That realization comes at about the time they were trailing 4-1 in the second set after losing the first set 6-1.
Somehow, Elk River’s Tyler Creelman and Jordan Haack turned it around just in time, and pulled out an improbable 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Rochester Mayo’s Haakon Stans and Ashwin Kushwaha in No. 3 doubles at the U of M’s Baseline Tennis Center.
“To have 3-doubles win, that was incredible, and it took the pressure off Nathan,” said Elk coach Randy Ronning.
Theirs was the decisive fourth point in a match very much in doubt at that point, although the Elks would wind up prevailing 5-2 as Nathan Chanthamontry, battling in the court next to them, rallied in both sets to nip Charles Bengtson 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4).
Creelman and Haack knew the situation; Ronning had told them. In the main arena at Baseline the Elks had quickly taken 1-2-3 singles as expected and Mayo did the same at 1-2 doubles as expected. It came down to the two matches on the other side of the curtains.
“I was really nervous … It didn’t look like we were going to win that one,” said Creelman, the eighth-grader.
But was it fun, too, the kids were asked?
“It was pretty fun,” said Creelman. “Our first state tournament match, and to be able to go out and get the winning point!”
Having about a hundred people watching the match and cheering added to the fun (and tension), not the normal scenario for a 3-dubs high school match.
The No. 2 seeded Elks (24-1) advanced to the Class AA semifinals against No. 3 Minnetonka, slated for 10 a.m. Wednesday, after top-seeded Wayzata takes on No. 4 Maple Grove at 8 a.m. The championship match is set for 4 p.m., and third place for 2 p.m.
When they trailed 4-1 in the second set, assistant coach Tom Ness settled them down during a break, reminding them to “take it one point at a time, and be patient.”
The momentum quickly swung.
“Eight straight,” said Haack, savoring the streak of five in a row to pull out the second set and three more to start the third. “We just got more aggressive.”
Added Creelman: “We stopped making mistakes, first, and second, we just started swinging.”
The Elk duo was up 5-4 and led 40-love at match point. Mayo pulled even with three straight points. The lanky, limber, 5-foot-10 Creelman uncorked an ace serve, and Haack finished the job with an overhead smash at the net. They hugged and danced a few seconds to celebrate.
Their main emotion: “Relief!” said Haack.
Creelman landed several aces.
“That serve is a huge weapon,” said Ronning, adding that Creelman spends huge amounts of time on the court both in summer and after practices during the season working on those skills.
Ronning added: “When he went out to serve that last game, I asked if he was having fun, and he said, ‘I live for moments like this!’ Which I was glad to hear.”
The Elks swept singles with Josh and Sam Gearou and Josh Chuba winning in straight sets.
“We thought we would get 1-2-3 singles. We knew their 1-2 doubles are incredible, the best of anyone here, even Wayzata, so we didn’t expect to get those.”
Wayzata blanked St. Cloud Tech 7-0 while Maple Grove scuttled No. 5 Mahtomedi 5-2 in the upper bracket. Minnetonka repelled Bloomington Jefferson 4-3 in the bottom bracket to move into the semi’s against the Elks.
The Elks beat Minnetonka 4-3 at home May 4 so they have a better than 50-50 chance of advancing to the finals. Last year, the Elks beat Wayzata 5-2 in the finals. The Elks replaced six starters, and Wayzata has been ranked first all year.
Elk River 5, Rochester Mayo 2
(1) Joshua Gearou, ER, def. Nicholas Ackerman 6-3, 6-1
(2) Samuel Gearou, ER, def. Sebastian Vile 6-3, 6-0
(3) Joshua Chuba, ER, def. Andy Stroebel 6-1, 6-2
(4) Nathan Chanthamontry, ER, def. Charles Bengtson 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4).
(1) Michael Poeschla/Ray Zhang, RM, def. Logann Burns/Noah Steichen 6-1, 6-0
(2) Sawyer Bock/Andrew Johnson, RM, def. Joseph Wetherille/Nicholas Tran 7-5, 6-0
(3) Jordan Haack/Tyler Creelman, ER, def. Haakon Stans/Ashwin Kushwaha 1-6, 6-4,