Athlete of the week: Becca O’Connell, Elk River, tennis: Captain Cool

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Becca O’Connell first met her best bud Hadley Purdy in fourth grade when they played on a tennis team organized by Becca’s dad, Kevin. “Becs” and “Hads,” as they’re known to teammates, have doubled up ever since, including four years on the Elk River varsity, helping the Elks reach state the last three years. (We’ll do an AOW on Purdy also later in the year).

O’Connell has a 65-43 career record, mostly with Purdy, including 10-6 this year and 15-12 last year in the No. 1 slot, 20-10 as sophomores at No. 2 and 22-15 as freshmen at No. 3. They are co-captains this year on a conference champion, 14-4 team.

Becca O'Connell is a four-year starter in doubles with 65 career wins, and is co-captain of a conference champ team this year. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
Becca O’Connell is a four-year starter in doubles with 65 career wins, and is co-captain of a conference champ team this year. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

“They’re best friends, on and off the court,” said coach LeRoyce Chapman. “Tennis has been  something special for them that it will be hard to say goodbye to to after this season.”

O’Connell is cool, collected, steady one, while her partner being a little more fiery and physical.

“Becs has such a calm, yet determined spirit,” said Chapman. “There’s a quiet strength about her. She hits so smart. Her game has improved every year. She’s been a joy to coach. Her attitude always team first.”

The 5-foot-17, 150-pound athlete’s brisk forehand ground stroking would make her a good singles player too, but she and Purdy have always meshed so well that doubles are more fun for them, and that’s fine with the Elks, to have them anchoring the dubs lineup.

O’Connell plays the deuce court and will get that point, and the add-on, where Purdy will hit something big and win it. If Purdy gambles and misses, O’Connell frequently covers for her. “Hads is strong at the net and it usually works well if we are not both at net,” said O’Connell.

The O’Connell family has been big contributors to Elk tennis. Her dad, Kevin, has mentored many players, including his own kids. Her brother Brendan, who played No. 1 for St. Thomas last season, has the Elk boys wins record (164), and sister Katie won 97 matches, mostly in doubles. The last sib, Joe, 13, is coming up the ranks.

“It’s a family thing, yes,” said O’Connell. “Dad gives us lessons now and then, sometimes we play doubles. I started in first grad and got more serious in about fourth grade.”

She plays year-round but fall is “definitely my favorite part of the year” with the Elk season.

Her favorite memory so far is the section finals against Forest Lake in Duluth her sophomore year, when the pressure was on both O’Connell sisters and their partners, and they both came through with come-from-behind wins to pull out a 4-3 win.

Of course, they could probably top that if Elks could upset a strong Forest Lake team in sectionals this year … and extend the prep career of herself and “Hads.”


Becca O'Connell
Becca O’Connell

Personal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents Kevin and Janet, brothers Brendan and Joe, sister Katie … Sport: tennis … Other activities: National Honor Society … Academics: around 3.6 gap … College: undecided where and major

Favorite stuff — Class: English Literature … TV shows: “That 70’s Show” … Movie: “Just Go With It” … Food: pasta, especially chicken alfredo … Drink: pink lemonade … Athlete: Rafael Nadal … Would like to visit: Spain