Part 3 of the plan: No. 1 Elk River at state meet

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 4, 2012 - 10:32 PM

The Elks are poised for a serious run at a state title, following a plan hatched 20 years ago.

Say this for Elk River tennis coach Randy Ronning: He certainly is a man of his word.

When he became an assistant coach at the school in 1992, he and then head coach Curt Johnson sat down together and came up with a plan to lift the Elk River program from laughable -- the team had won only 18 matches in an 11-year span -- to laudable.

"We came up with a seven-year plan to beat St. Cloud Tech, which had gone to the state tournament 22 out of 24 years from our section," Ronning said. "We wanted to win the conference, which we had never done. And then we said, 'What the heck. Let's win a state championship in 20 years.'"

The Elks beat St. Cloud Tech two years ahead of schedule. They've won seven consecutive Northwest Suburban Conference titles. And finally, two decades into the plan, the Elks head into Tuesday's boys' tennis state tournament undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 2A.

Twenty years after Ronning and Johnson set the goal of winning a state title, the Elks very likely could do just that.

Experience and depth are the two biggest keys to success in team tennis. The Elks have both in excess.

Consider that Elk River has six seniors on its roster, a doubles lineup that has only five losses among them, and freshman phenoms in twins Josh and Sam Gearou, and the Elks are feeling good about their chances this week.

The Elks' success has created a buzz around the team. A 28-0 record has a tendency to make people pay attention.

"We played the toughest schedule in the state, but people really started to notice when we beat Edina 6-1," Ronning said. "Even though it's not their best team ever, Edina has been the gold standard in Minnesota tennis for 40 years. After we beat Edina, I got more than 40 text messages from people congratulating us."

Ronning is aware, however, that the flood of excitement could slow to a trickle if the team falters in the tournament this week.

"We would be disappointed, yeah, but not crazy disappointed because it's been a fantastic year," he said. "Winning would be a crowning moment for our program."

Tourney tidbits

• Defending Class 2A champion Rochester Mayo became far more dangerous with the return of two key players from injury.

Thomas Nath, who battled a knee injury for much of the season, is back in his usual spot at No. 1 singles. And eighth-grader Ingrid Neel, who played a pivotal role in the Spartans' 2011 title run, has recovered enough from a back injury to play at No. 2 doubles. Neel was undefeated at No. 3 singles in last year's tournament.

• Maple Grove ended Mounds View's 10-year streak of state tournament appearances by winning the Class 2A, Section 5 title. The Crimson has a big challenge, however, if the team wants to advance past the quarterfinals. It plays Elk River, which beat the Crimson 5-2 in the second match of the season.

• Proponents of seeding the tournament have more fodder in the Class 1A brackets. If both defending champion Breck and Blake win as expected in their quarterfinals matches, the No. 1-ranked Mustangs and the No. 2-ranked Bears will meet in the semifinals.

• While Forest Lake's Dusty Boyer has received most of the individual attention with his pursuit of a state-record fourth title, Breck junior Myles Tang has become an intimidating force in the Class 1A field.

Tang, who won the singles crown as a sophomore in 2011, is considered such a favorite to win again that Rochester Lourdes senior Robert Turlington, considered the second-best player in 1A, chose instead to try for a doubles championship with teammate Brian Utz.

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