An injury to the Eagles' top tennis player has put doubles partners in new roles.
While some of his Eden Prairie classmates battled all the way to the Class 4A boys' basketball state semifinals this season, Scott Elsass played recreational basketball. Nothing too competitive, just a little fun during his senior year before another probable run to the Class 2A tennis tournament to cap off his prep career.
What could go wrong, right? Turns out, plenty.
"There were days I couldn't walk up the stairs," Elsass said of the patellar tendonitis, or "jumper's knee," he developed between basketball and continued tennis training during the winter. "The pushing-off part was the real killer."
Already besieged by shoulder injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons, Elsass found himself in a familiar position to start this season: an unwanted spectator.
"Looking back, it was no big deal," Elsass said. "But missing matches in an already short season isn't ideal for anyone. It's frustrating. I just learned to fuel the hunger to be out on the court with whatever I can."
Elsass maintained light tennis training and hit the weight room. When he felt up to it, his coach Dean Rudrud put Elsass in at doubles so he would only have to serve one out of every four times and didn't have to cover as much ground on the court.
Elsass is no stranger to doubles. He and David Zhou qualified for the Class 2A tournament last spring but singles is where Elsass prefers to be. He placed third in Class 2A as a sophomore -- and helped the Eagles to the team championship -- and hopes to get back to the big stage on his own.
"He's handled it a lot better than I would," Rudrud said of his usual No. 1 singles player. "He's always been positive out here around us. I don't know what it's been like at home, but out here he's never been like, 'Why me?' He's our leader and the goal is to keep him healthy and have him ready for sections and state."
The knee injuries to Elsass and fellow singles-turned-doubles player Salam Bachour have opened the door for others. Zhou, a junior, slid into the No. 1 singles spot. His results have been mixed at best, but rather than dwell on the scores Zhou looked for a silver lining and found it right in front of him.
"It can be hard to do but it means everyone is getting better matches," he said. "Personally, I like No. 1 singles. It's a challenge for me, but the bigger the challenge the more I will learn."
At the forefront is the difference in the speed between a player at No. 1 compared to a player at No. 2.
"When I move back down [to No. 2] I'll remember that pace and use it because I know a player not used to it won't be ready, won't be comfortable," Zhou said.
On the courts at Round Lake Park last week, Elsass, wearing a thin band wrapped below his left kneecap, appeared plenty comfortable.
Now it has to stay that way for another month.
"I'm hoping for 100 percent very soon," Elsass said. "The only thing that matters is sections. If you're healthy for that, you're good to go."
Brian Stensaas • 612-673-4127