Fans in the stands at Baseline Tennis Center were really into it when Edina faced Minnetonka in the state Class AA finals Oct. 23.
On the line for Edina was the longest championship streak in the nation’s history.
On the line for Minnetonka was a chance to make national headlines.
“We almost climbed to the mountain top,” said Minnetonka head coach Dave Stearns, after the Hornets won a 5-2 decision and their 17th-consecutive state Class AA title. “The match could have gone either way. We came out and played well, but Edina was able to persevere. I have great respect for [coach] Steve Paulsen and what Edina has accomplished. He was very gracious after the match and complimented me on how well our girls played.
“We had a shot, we really did. This group of girls I have this year is the most cohesive team I’ve coached.”
Minnetonka had the lead in four of the seven matches early on. If the Skippers had held on in all of them, they would have won 4-3, but Edina dug deep and turned the tide in two of those matches.
Was Edina’s Paulsen nervous?
“I was, but I tried not to show it,” he said.
The two points Minnetonka won came from the top of the lineup.
Bella Lambert, Tonka’s 13-year-old eighth-grader, avenged a previous loss by beating Edina’s No. 1 singles player, Caitlyn Merzbacher, 6-4, 6-3.
“Bella rebounded beautifully with two wins today after losing to Mounds View’s Summer Brills yesterday,” said Stearns.
The other Skipper point came from the first doubles team of sophomore Theresa Tebon and senior co-captain Bri Smith. They beat Mackenzi Marinovich and Kelly Reger in a highly-competitive match, 7-5, 6-3.
“Theresa and Bri played some really good tennis, especially in the second set,” said Stearns.
Edina’s second doubles team of Katie Engelking and Hannah Hankinson lost the first set to Tonka’s Abby Steiger and Jeanne Kregness, 6-2, but the Edina girls took the next two sets, 6-3, 6-2.
In another pivotal match, that featured some long rallies, Bridget Kluesner and Margaux Boyer of Edina took the third doubles point from Jenna Fester and Cristina Jones, 6-2, 6-4.
Edina won the second singles point with Sophia Reddy downing Anna Letto in a battle between two of the state’s best eighth-graders. Maddie Boyer of Edina topped Skipper co-captain Adrienne Irmer at third singles, and Hornet Michelle Ip edged Karina Smiley, 6-3, 6-0, at fourth singles.
Path to finals
Minnetonka won two matches to advance to the state finals.
The Skippers defeated Mounds View 5-2 in the first round Oct. 22.
Mounds View won at first and second singles with its star players, Summer Brills and Alex Kopiecki, but the other five points belonged to the Skippers.
Irmer and Smiley both won 6-1, 6-1 singles decisions.
Tebon and Smith won 6-2, 6-1 at first doubles, while Steiger and Kregness won 7-5, 6-1 at second doubles. Fester and Jones split their first two sets with Mounds View’s Claire Chen and Sarah Conlin, and then won a pro set 10-5 to take the point.
The Skippers had to battle for survival in the semifinals, as they held on to beat Prior Lake 4-3.
Lambert won 6-2, 6-1 over Chloe Hall of the Lakers in a quick first singles match. Tonka also prevailed in third singles with Irmer winning, 6-3, 6-3.
Steiger and Kregness came up with a 6-0, 6-1 win at second doubles. Fester and Jones wrapped it up with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at third doubles.
In the state Class AA individual tournament, Minnetonka had two place-winning entries.
Lambert banged her way to fourth place in state singles and was the youngest player in the final four. Edina’s Caitlyn Merzbacher downed Summer Brills of Mounds View, 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 in the championship match.
Minnetonka’s doubles entry, Tebon and Smith, also earned fourth place at state. Kylie Boyer and Kate Rosenow of Rochester Mayo captured the state doubles title.
Stearns and Edina’s Paulsen are good friends on and off the court, but at the same time, Stearns would like to add a gold medal to his collection of silver medals.
Edina is losing only a handful of players to graduation, while Minnetonka will return three of its top four players – Lambert, Letto and Tebon – for 2014.
All Stearns can do is continue to build the Skippers’ program and search for his best lineup to go against Edina.
After the state-championship match, he said, “We worked as hard as we could today. One thing we can be proud of – We made Edina earn it.”
Contact John Sherman at [email protected]