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Elk River tennis players Steven Delain, center, and Mitch Brandell, right, whooped it up after clinching a 5-2 title victory over Wayzata.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

BOYS' TENNIS TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS Class 2A: Elk River def. Wayzata 5-2 • Class 1A: Breck def. Rochester Lourdes 4-3

Elk River, Breck win state tennis titles

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • June 7, 2012 - 6:14 AM

After more than an hour of wading through a growing river of tension of their own creation, it took Elk River's tennis team only 15 seconds to burst the dam and let loose a torrent of emotion.

The Elks, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, found their collective games in the nick of time, rallying to defeat Wayzata 5-2 to win the first boys' tennis team championship in school history.

The victory is the first for a large-school team north of the I-694/494 loop since St. Cloud Tech won the single-class title in 1985.

"Wow," said Elk River senior doubles player Mitch Brandell, the school record-holder with 151 career victories. "I knew it would feel good. I didn't know it would feel this good."

While not unexpected following a marvelous season in which they never gave up more than two team points in any of their 31 victories, Elk River's championship match victory created more than a few furrowed brows.

Wayzata, which lost to Elk River 6-1 during the regular season, won the first set in four of the seven matches. The Elks, it appeared, were squeezing the life out of their racquets and, perhaps, their season.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself," Elks coach Randy Ronning said. "I was wondering if we didn't win, was it my fault? Did I do something wrong?"

Ronning needn't have worried. His team found its game as the match went on, buoyed by a three-set victory at No. 1 doubles by Brandell and Mathew Odegard. The duo, undefeated together, dropped the first set 6-3 before rallying to win the next two sets 6-1, 6-2.

"We were a little nervous and [Wayzata] came out firing," Brandell said. "And I couldn't help looking at the scoreboard to see what the other matches were doing. My focus issues are terrible."

After Brandell and Odegard settled down and won, Ronning said he was able to relax.

"They haven't lost a first set all year," he said. "I didn't expect that, but I knew they would come back."

Still, Elk River held a slim 2-1 lead until unflappable freshman Josh Gearou finished off a comeback to beat Wayzata's Nick Beaty 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 at No. 1 singles. Fifteen seconds later, No. 4 singles player Josh Chuba completed a three-set victory over Henry Lee, giving the Elks an insurmountable 4-1 lead and resulting in an explosion of cheers and a mad on-court rush of players clad in Elk River red.

"Before the match, we said if we win, we won't celebrate until the match is completely over, to show a little class," Ronning said. "That idea didn't last. They just couldn't contain themselves."

Who could blame them? In the 134-year history of the school, Elk River had won only six previous team championships. This title alone was the result of a plan devised by Ronning and then-head coach Curt Johnson 20 years ago.

"It feels awesome, particularly to get the first [tennis championship] in Elk River history," said No. 3 singles player Ryan Ness. "It's crazy. This kind of thing doesn't happen too much at our school."

Championships are a more common occurrence at Wayzata, which won four team titles in the 2010-2011 school year alone. The commitment to success was apparent in the Trojans approach.

"It's all about attitude and effort," said coach Jeff Prondzinski. "We are a much better team than we were the first time we played them. I think this was a 50-50 match. Give Elk River credit for playing well under pressure."

Class 1A: Breck endures

The pothole in Breck's road to a second consecutive Class 1A title was obvious: The Mustangs had to beat Blake, their biggest rival and closest competitor, in the semifinals just to get the chance to play for a title.

They did beat Blake, but just barely.

Myles Tang's three-set victory at No. 1 singles over Blake freshman Charlie Adams, who nearly pulled out the victory despite suffering severe cramps in his legs and arms in the final set, gave Breck a 4-3 semifinals victory.

Conversely, Rochester Lourdes -- the other championship match participant -- breezed through the first two rounds, losing only one set.

On paper, Breck was clearly the better team. After a difficult semifinal match, however, Mustangs coach Chi Pham was worried about a completely different story being written on the court.

"We can't overlook Lourdes," he said. "They have great singles. We'll have to play our best to beat them."

Pham's assessment was spot-on. Breck swept the doubles, Lourdes won the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 singles. And, once again, it was Tang who closed the door for Breck.

The 2011 Class 1A singles champion won his second three-set match of the day, beating Lourdes' Robert Turlington 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 to secure another 4-3 victory, the seventh in Breck's history.

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