Gary Aasen tried, repeatedly, to describe what had just taken place, but words just didn’t work.
Edina, the No. 4 seed in Section 6, had spent much of Thursday on the brink of elimination. Wayzata, the two-time defending 2A boys’ tennis state champion, had barged out to a 3-1 lead in the section championship match. All the Trojans needed was one more victory for a return trip to the state tournament.
That lead never quite seemed stable, however, and Edina, showing as much grit as talent, fought back. The momentum shift became palpable as the Hornets eked out one victory, then two and finally a third, at No. 2 doubles, to pull off one of the most unlikely upsets of the boys’ tennis postseason. They defeated the Trojans 4-3 for the section championship and a berth in next week’s state tournament.
As Edina coach for more than 20 years, Aasen has coached a wealth of talented players and top-flight teams and been witness to plenty of big victories. But he’d never seen something like this.
“It’s …” Aasen stammered, shaking his head. “These guys, they just …”
He tried two more times to describe what his team did before finally putting his feeling into words.
“It wasn’t until this week that I thought we could do this,” he said. “They’re tougher than I thought, especially mentally. They just hung around and hung around and wouldn’t go away. From where they started to where they are now, it’s incredible.”
Aasen wasn’t being hard on his charges. Edina is a name synonymous with high school tennis excellence. Boys’ teams have won 22 state titles since 1959. The girls have fared even better with 32 team championships, including a current streak of 18 in a row.
But this isn’t your typical Edina team. The Hornets, missing their usual top-end talent, opened the season losing their first three matches and four of their first five. Entering the section playoffs, Edina had nine victories, nine losses. If the Hornets were going to accomplish anything significant, it would be on guts and determination.
“This year, we have a lot of young guys,” said captain Michael O’Neil, who plays No. 1 singles. “We don’t have highly rated players. I’m not highly rated at singles. But our coach always told us that our potential was better than we had shown, we just didn’t know it.”
Knowing they had one chance to salvage the season, the Hornets held a players-only practice/meeting on the Saturday before the start of the playoffs.
“We picked our brains and decided we had to change out mental mindset,” senior co-captain Michael Thompson said. “Instead of thinking we can’t play in this spot or that spot, we just decided to accept our roles and do the best we could.”
They defeated Minneapolis Washburn in the quarterfinals, then staved off elimination with a determined rally to defeat top-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the semifinals. That set up a rematch with Wayzata in the finals for the fourth consecutive year. The Trojans had won the previous three.
“The guys on this team are something else,” Thompson said. “I know it goes against the stereotype of Edina, but the guys on this team are willing to scrap and fight for what we get. This means everything to us.”