After 27 seasons as the Minnetonka girls' tennis coach — and 33 overall, having led the boys' team for six years before taking the girls' job — Dave Stearns knew he had the team he'd been waiting for this fall. One with the talent and depth to finally get past rival Edina and win the Class 2A state title the Skippers had been chasing for so long.
"This is the best girls' team I've coached," he said.
Then along came COVID-19 and the Skippers' dreams of a state championship were dashed when the tournament was scrapped. But Stearns was far from disappointed. He knew how good his team was and instead stressed the importance his team living up to its potential.
"What I've tried to do is get the girls to deal with the reality," he said in October. "We turned our focus to how good this team can be. These kids have been resilient and have had a great attitude."
Minnetonka won the Class 2A, Section 2 team championship, completing a 14-0 season while dropping just two individual matches and living up to Stearns' expectations.
"Now, we're looking forward to next year," he said.
Stearns, 72, died unexpectedly Saturday morning. The cause of death is unknown.
"What sticks out distinctly was how joyful he was to have this season with his team and do what he does in the shadow of a pandemic," said Ted Schultz, Minnetonka activities director. "He couldn't wait to get to the court and spend time doing what he loved."
Stearns was a three-sport athlete at St. Cloud Tech, earning 10 varsity letters in football, basketball and tennis. He was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame.
He went on to play tennis at the University of Minnesota and was team captain in 1971.
A retired special education teacher, Stearns coached the Minnetonka boys' tennis team to back-to-back Class 2A state titles in 2016 and 2017.
"He always had a great perspective on things," Schultz said Tuesday. "He was the type of coach who loved being around the athletic office and loved being around the kids. That's what he's a legend for."