by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A month ago the Elk River tennis team edged Minnetonka 4-3 at home in a non-conference duel of top-ten ranked teams. But when the same two teams squared off Wednesday for much larger stakes and duked out another close match, this time the Skippers clipped the Elks 4-3 at the U of M Baseline Center.
The setting was the state Class AA semifinals, and the loss ended the Elks’ reign as state champion and denied them a rematch with Wayzata, the team they beat in the finals last year.
The Elks won the first two points completed against Minnetonka and took the first set in two others — all those were singles matches — but could not finish the job on this day. In fact the Skippers probably would have won 5-2 if not for cramps that made their 4-singles player retire while leading the third set 5-3.
“We’ve had a lot of 4-3 matches this year and we started thinking we would always win them, but couldn’t do it today,” said coach Randy Ranning. “Minnetonka played a great match.”
The Elks, who beat Mayo 5-2 in the first round Tuesday, then lost to conference rival Maple Grove 5-3 in the third place match, officially finishing fourth with a 23-3 record.
The Crimson were one of six teams the Elks beat 4-3 during the regular season, for the conference title.
“This match will mean more to Maple Grove than to us,” said Ronning after the semifinal loss. “So it will be interesting to see how we respond.”
Against Minnetonka, Sam Gearou and Josh Chuba got the first two points, at 2-3 singles. Josh Gearou at No. 1 took the first set from Joel Richards 4-3 and Nathan Chanthamontry won the first set from Cole Steffens 6-3 at No. 4.
But Josh Gearou couldn’t hold off the junior who’s seeded No. 4 in the singles tournament. Richards won the next two sets 6-3 and 6-4 and got the clinching fourth point, as the Skippers had swept the doubles in three very close matches in the meantime.
“We knew one singles would be a tough match because Joel Richards is a very good player, but when Josh got that first set I thought we might get that point,” said Ronning.
Nathan Chanthamontry had match point twice in the second set but lost in a tiebreaker, and trailed in the third set when Steffens cramped up. With Skippers already set for the championship match against Wayzata four hours later, they let that one go.
Counting the injury default, all the points turned out the same in the rematch as the May 4 match, except No. 3 doubles. Tonka’s Scott Moser and Benjamin Wheaton got that crucial point from Tyler Creelman and Zeke Delain 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to put their team ahead 3-2.
A day earlier, Creelman and Jordan Haack lost the first set 6-1 but came back to win against Rochester Mayo. Against the Skippers, Creelman and Delain appeared on the same path as they cruised in the second set and got the first point in the third. But the Skipper duo surged past them.
“Their inexperience showed,” said Ronning about the two varsity rookies. “They got nervous in the third set. That’s to be expected.”
The 1-2 doubles matches were both very close just like last time, Ronning noted.
The Elks had four of 10 starters back from the state championship team plus one semi-regular.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” said Ronning, “with so many new people in the lineup and so much inexperience, to came as close as they did to reaching the finals again. It was very disappointing to lose and not get the the finals. But I think this is a tribute to how hard the all worked in the off-season.”
Minnetonka 4, Elk River 3
(1) Joel Richards, Min, def. Joshua Gearou, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
(2) Samuel Gearou, ER, def. Parker Duda 6-2, 6-3
(3) Joshua Chuba, ER, def. Jonah Salita 6-2, 6-1
(4) Nathan Chanthamontry, ER, def. Cole Steffens 6-3, 6-7 (1), 3-5 ret (inj).
(1) Brett Erickson/Blake Farland, Min, def. Logann Burns/Noah Steichen 7-6 (4), 6-4
(2) William Lindfors/Peter Schlangen, Min, def. Joseph Wetherille/ Nicholas Tran 7-5, 6-3.
(3) Scott Moser/Benjamin Wheaton, Min, def. Tyler Creelman/Zeke Delain 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
Maple Grove 5, Elk River 2
(1) Joshua Gearou, ER, def. Sam Hochberger 6-1, 6-1
(2) Samuel Gearou, ER, def. Derrick Marvin 6-0, 6-0
(3) Nathaniel Nemeth, MG, def. Joseph Wetherille 6-4, 7-5
(4) Trevor Kleinischay, MG, def. Nicholas Tran 6-3, 6-0.
(1) Zachary Adkins/Charlie Adkins, MG, def. Nathan Chanthamontry/Joshua Chuba, 6-4, 7-5
(2) Rory Calabria/Jacob Endres, MG, def. Logann Burn/Noah Steichen 6-3, 6-2
(3) Trevor Gifft/Vinura Withanawasam, MG, def. Jordan Haack/Zeke Delain 6-1, 6-2.