In the fall of 1996, Bill Clinton was finishing up his first term as president of the United States. The Summer Olympics in Atlanta recently had been completed. Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf were the No. 1-ranked professional tennis players in the world.
It was also the last year that Breck won a girls’ tennis championship. And the last year that Edina didn’t win one.
Breck ended a 17-year championship drought with a 6-1 victory over Rochester Lourdes on Wednesday in the Class 1A team championship match at the Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
Over at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center, Edina continued its amazing streak of state championships by winning its 17th Class 2A title in a row, beating rival Minnetonka 5-2 in the finals.
One of Anne Gorde’s first tasks when she took over as the head coach at Breck in 2012 was to sit down with her two top singles players, Patty Zhao and Sunny Tang.
“We met at a coffee shop and they said to me they hoped I was serious about winning a state championship,” Gorde said. “I knew at that point that a state championship was possible. That was their No. 1 goal.”
The Mustangs had fielded many good teams since their last title, but they had trouble getting past Blake. When Blake moved up to Class 2A this season, their championship vision grew sharper.
“That was really big for us,” Gorde said. “But a part of us wanted to win because we deserved it, not because Blake left.”
Breck defeated Blake 4-3 during the regular season, providing confidence and momentum that the Mustangs carried through the state tournament.
Zhao and Tang, two of the top singles players in Class 1A as well as the core of the team, cruised through their matches in the team finals, losing a total of three games between them.
“Rochester Lourdes came out firing, like we expected they would, but we responded and played really well,” Gorde said. “You could tell how gratified those two were just by the smiles on their faces.”
Edina’s championship victory over Minnetonka was a concoction of talent, focus and more than a little fear.
As the titles have mounted, so have the worries. No one wants to be on the team when the streak finally ends.
“Oh my god, it feels so good to do this,” said senior Maddie Boyer, a team captain and five-year veteran. “That was so nerve-racking. I’m so happy. And I’m so relieved.”
Part of the Edina method is that coach Steve Paulsen never mentions championships. He’s smart enough to realize that the team knows what’s at stake. So winning never enters the conversation.
“That pressure will always be there,” Paulsen said. “So we never talk about winning. We set goals about how we want to play, and if we do those things, we’ll be happy.”
After Boyer cruised to a 6-2, 6-0 victory at No. 3 singles, she made a beeline for the bleachers, where she watched as her younger sister Margaux, an eighth-grader playing No. 3 doubles with senior Bridget Kluesner, hit the shot that clinched the victory, giving Edina a 4-0 lead at the time with three matches to play.
“That was so great to see that,” Maddie said. “I’m so proud of her.”
Margaux, who played on the 2012 championship team as a seventh-grader, battled emotions as she realized that a torch had been passed, sister-to-sister. That is Edina tennis in a nutshell — one leaves and another steps in, yet the level of play rarely slips.
“She’s been so supportive of me,” Margaux said. “I couldn’t have done it without her support. It feels just great, but I’m really going to miss her. It’s going to be tough without her.”
Perhaps. But chances are, the results will be similar.