by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
All season long, everything pointed to Forest Lake putting an end to Elk River’s seven-year reign in Section 7AA tennis. Heading into their third encounter of the season, Forest Lake was 23-0 and had dealt the Elks two of their five losses.
The Rangers, however, could not complete the hat trick. With Annika Teske delivering the decisive point, the Elks upset the Rangers 4-3 in sub-section Tuesday on the Rangers courts.
“It was a heartbreaker for Forest Lake,” said Elk coach LeRoyce Chapman. “Our girls are close with them because we’ve played so often, and the teams really respect each other.”
The Elks had lost to the Rangers 5-2 twice, on Sept. 7 in Duluth and Sept. 21 at home, but the second match had four third-set tiebreakers, all won by the Rangers, so the Elks knew they were closing the gap.
“It’s always difficult to beat a team three times, and the last match was so close,” said Chapman. “Our girls were really fired up and ready to go.”
The Elks (16-5) advanced to Section 7AA where they’ll take on Grand Rapids-Greenway on Saturday while Princeton plays Duluth East, at Arrowhead Tennis and Fitness Center in Duluth. Finals will be held Monday.
If ever a team deserved to end another’s dynasty, it was Forest Lake this year. The Rangers lost to the Elks in six of the last seven sectionals, including 4-3 last year, when they knew they had their whole lineup coming back, while the Elks would have some holes to fill.
The Rangers looked like the favorites all year, but the Elks prevailed in the one that counted.
The Elks were down 3-2 before Jen Koehler won her third set 6-0 at No. 3 singles to knot the score. That’s when all the players on both teams camped around the two-singles court where Teske and Chase Shortly were neck-and-neck with three games left.
“I saw all the girls from other teams and I knew one of us had to get it done,” said Teske. “I decided it was my time and my team was going to make it.”
Teske had lost twice to Shortly, the first one a blowout, but the second one decided by a third-set tiebreaker 12-10.
Shortly cruised 6-1 in the first set Tuesday, but Teske ground out the second set 7-6 (7-5).
“Chase came out strong and it took me a while to figure her out,” said Teske. “I starting hitting my serves better and my overhands better.”
The third was tenacious and close, with Teske pulling it out 6-4, ending on a shot by Shortly that went wide.
Teske said she had a session with her private coach at her club in Fridley earlier in the day that paid off: “My coach had me doing so many serves and overheads that it made me dizzy.”
Setting the tempo Tuesday were senior captains Becca O’Connell and Hadley Purdy, with a brisk 6-2, 6-1 win over Bailey Norby and Taylor Emily, to whom they’d lost twice before in close matches.
“Becca and Hadley played some of the best doubles I’ve seen this year,” said Chapman. “They were the first ones done and it got all the girls thinking, we can do this.”
The other point came from Meagan Brown, Elk eighth-grader at No. 1, prevailing 6-4, 6-3 over senior Taylor Shortly. They split during the regular season.
The Elks have five losses but they’ve come through in the clutch, first with a 4-3 win over longtime nemesis Centennial to grab a share of the conference title, and now the upset of Forest Lake to keep their state hopes alive.
“It’s been different girls every time,” said Chapman. “That shows how we’ve come together as a team. All our players are very intense.”
Other section winners
The No. 5 seeded Princeton Tigers are the other south sub team advancing to Section 7AA, with a 4-3 win over No. 3 seeded Andover. Princeton added Elk boys coach Randy Ronning to its staff this year as an assistant.
The north teams advancing are Duluth East, 7-0 over Cloquet-Esko-Carleton, and Grand Rapids-Greenway, 6-1 over Hermantown.
Elks individuals entrants
The Elks will have Meagan Brown and Lauren Brayden in singles, and the doubles teams of Hadley/O’Connell and Teske/Koehler, in sub-section individuals competition on Thursday in Princeton.
Elk River 4, Forest Lake 3
(1) Meagan Brown, ER, def Taylor Shortly 6-4, 6-3
(2) Annika Teske, ER, def Chase Shortly 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4
(3) Jen Koehler, ER, def Megan Anderson 1-6, 6-3, 6-0
(4) Noel Vierra, FL, def Lauren Brayden 6-2, 6-3
(1) Hadley Purdy-Becca O’Connell, ER, def Bailey Norby-Taylor Emily 6-2, 6-1
(2) Taylor Angelo-Natalie Wright, FL, def Emma Hannegraaf-Erin Reiner 6-4, 3-6, 6-2
(3) Risa Anderson-Lindsey Tilton, FL, def Brooke Burns-Dani Dokken 6-0, 6-0