Minnetonka girls tennis conquers season of tumult, returns to state

A season of uncertainty has become one of success for Minnetonka. Now the Skippers are pushing for an ending in line with the past two seasons, when they twice hoisted the state championship trophy.

Minnetonka won the 2021 and 2022 state titles thanks to a wealth of talent and the drive of then-coach Brent Lundell, who took over after the death of Minnetonka tennis coaching legend Dave Stearns.

This season, graduation sapped the program of much of its state tournament strength, and the contract of Lundell, who also coaches the Eden Prairie boys tennis team, was not renewed.

Minnetonka reached into its recent past for a replacement, hiring former player Jessa Richards-Boike to head up the team. Richards-Boike helped the Skippers to a couple of state tournament appearances before heading off to a successful college tennis career at Augustana (S.D.).

Since graduating in 2016, Richards-Boike remained involved in the Twin Cities tennis scene. Before being hired at Minnetonka she was an assistant coach at Holy Family in Victoria.

"I was super excited, as a Skipper alum, to get the chance to be back with the program," Richards-Boike said.

But she hasn't had the time to fully commit to her team, because she had a baby girl, Raya, on Aug. 21.

How to coach a team while also on maternity leave? Find help. Luckily, there was plenty.

There was longtime assistant Jim Elvestrom, who has daughters in the program and is a familiar face.

And there's always Dad.

Richards-Boike's father, Dan Richards, was the head girls tennis coach at Robbinsdale Armstrong for 12 years.

"I was there for the first week [of practice] and then doing some back-end stuff," Richards-Boike said.

"Jim has been great. He's a good coach, and it's nice having someone around who knows the team," Richards-Boike said. "And having my dad, he's been able to be there and run all the practices. I just popped in when I could."

Still on maternity leave from her career in sales, Richards-Boike has taken back the head coaching reins just recently, in time to guide the team through its state tournament appearance.

Minnetonka is seeded third in Class 2A, behind No. 1 seed Rochester Mayo and No. 2 Edina. All four of the Skippers' losses this season have been to those to teams, twice each. They begin their defense with a 2 p.m. quarterfinal match Tuesday against East Ridge.

Richards-Boike has not been around the team all season, but she's encouraged by what she's seen recently.

"Expectation may have been a little lowered this year, but we do have seven seniors back and a couple of great captains in Karina Elvestrom and Carter Nye, and they've been great leaders," she said. "My dad and I talked, and what we really want is for the girls to have a good experience and have fun."

Serves and volleys

* The Class 2A tournament will be held at Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota, Class 1A at Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in south Minneapolis. Team competition runs Tuesday and Wednesday, individual brackets take place Thursday at Friday.

* Any team with designs on winning a state championship will have to go through Rochester. Mayo is seeded No. 1 in Class 2A and is led by the Loftus sisters, Claire, a junior, and Aoife, a freshman, and boast another talented freshman in Malea Diehn. All three have qualified for the individual tournament as well, both Loftus sisters in the singles bracket and Diehn in doubles. Mayo is undefeated (23-0) and has been atop the Class 2A state rankings all season. Mayo has qualified for the state tournament 26 of the past 27 years but has never won a team championship. Defending Class 1A team champion Rochester Lourdes is seeded No. 1 and is shooting for the 15th state title in team history.

* The top seeds in the Class 2A singles bracket are No. 1 Cassandra Li of Eagan, No. 2 Claire Loftus and No. 3 Ava Nelson of Elk River. In Class 1A singles, No. 1-seeded Isabelle Einess of Breck is seeking her third consecutive championship match appearance. She lost in the 2021 finals when she was a sophomore at Minnehaha Academy and won the 1A title a year ago after transferring to Breck. The No. 2 seed in 1A is Annika Harberts of Providence Academy. No. 3 is Leah Maddock of Osakis.