Former Devils netters relive 1989 state championship

Seven members of Virginia's 1989 state championship girls' tennis team are pictured Oct. 12 at Virginia's indoor tennis facility. Also pictured are assistant coach Bob Prittinen, far left, and their head coach Dave Gunderson. Players present for the Saturday morning get together were: Kerry Waschke-Collins, Anne Lundberg, Jen Waldorf, Julie Tomazin, Heather Karakas, Tracy Erickson and Jen Moeller.

VIRGINIA — The Virginia girls’ tennis team’s thrilling win for the state championship was documented in the Mesabi Daily News 30 years ago.

One week ago, the teammates — and lifelong friends — gathered at Virginia’s indoor tennis facility to relive the match that is still talked about today.

The Oct. 25, 1989, MDN shows two photos of the team as they lined the court for the last match, which happened to be Anne Lundberg in singles. The girls had their heads down and some covered their eyes as three match points went against the Blue Devils. However, the “thrill of victory’’ photo had them jumping for joy as Lundberg sealed the match and a 3-2 win over New London-Spicer, which made them state champs.

Lundberg joked about the stressful ending to the match.

“I just wanted to drag it out for fun, just to keep it interesting. I wanted a lot of drama,’’ she said. “It was definitely stressful’’ and had her mother unable to watch. “The pressure was just crazy. There were a lot of nerves. That’s for sure.’’

Bob Prittinen, an assistant coach on the 1989 team, said Lundberg’s win was one of the top memories from that championship season.

“We laughed about Anne Lundberg in the final match’’ when everyone got together last week. “That brings back a lot of memories. She (Lundberg) came through. She had three match points before she finally put it away. I don’t think we had any doubts she would do it. We weren’t worried about that.’’

On their way to winning the state title, Virginia knocked off defending champion St. Paul Academy, 4-1, in the opening round and slipped past Winona-Cotter in the semifinals, 3-2.

“It was just a gifted, gifted team,’’ said the team’s head coach Dave Gunderson.

The team members were: Lundberg, Julie Tomazin, Sandy Zupetz, Tracy Erickson, Jen Waldorf, Tammy Boyer, Kerry Waschke-Collins, Jen Moeller, Tina Dethloff, Natalie Hahne and Heather Karakas. Lynn Mauston was one of the coaches and Chris Petrack was the manager. Gunderson also said many others helped us, including Bob and Jim Prittinen and Mike McCabe.

The talent level was highlighted by Erickson finishing second in the state in singles, Lundberg and Tomazin taking second in doubles, Jen and Kerry placing third in doubles and Zupetz also qualifying for state.

For many of the players, the significance of the championship hit home on their way back to town.

“The thing that made me realize it was a big deal was as we were driving home from the tournament there was this huge caravan of people waiting for us. ... Somewhere out on the highway all of our parents, community members and friends were there and following us into town,’’ Tomazin said. She remembers saying, “Whoa we did something really amazing. You don’t really realize it in the moment.’’

Erickson remembered the “car entourage’’ that led the team back to town for a celebration at the high school gymnasium.

The reception the Blue Devils received from the community upon their return was one of the top highlights of winning the championship, said Waschke-Collins, who was 16 at the time. “We felt like we had won the national title.’’

The police escort back into Virginia “was pretty cool,’’ she said. “The whole community rallied.’’

Gunderson, in his first year coaching the team, said it was all new to him back then. “The community support was unbelievable.’’

The coach got the ball rolling on a first-ever official reunion when he mentioned it to Waschke-Collins and Erickson.

Waschke-Collins did some of the organizing, which included a dinner at the Sawmill and players coming in from Colorado and Montana.

What stands out for Waschke-Collins after 30 years. “The friendships. Obviously the trophy was an incredible accomplishment in and of itself. To look back 30 years later, it’s some of the friendships that mean the most to me. You realize what an impact this team made on the whole life. It’s kind of a really cool relationship we all have.’’

She added, “It’s pretty cool that 30 years later we can all get together and share these memories ... and lots of laughs.’’

What were the 1989 champs laughing about 30 years later?

“Some of those things can’t be shared yet,’’ Waschke-Collins said.

Gunderson looks fondly on the championship season.

“This group was my first group. I was spoiled,’’ he said. “It’s never been about one person. It’s always been about the team. We have great memories.’’

Gunderson pointed out there was a lot of good tennis due to the Prittinens before he became the coach.

“Jim talked me into coaching one year and it ended up to be 30-some years,’’ he said at the courts last week. “It’s just great to see everybody back in here. You can see they can still hit the ball.’’

The group was indeed talented and grew up playing the game. The same core group also made it to state in basketball that season, Gunderson added.

Erickson said she started playing tennis in the growing Virginia program as a second-grader.

“What did you do every day? You rode your bike to the park and played tennis all day long,’’ Erickson said. “That’s what we all did since we were very, very young. All summer long, and then we’d go play basketball at night.’’

The women have remained friends, even some taking trips to the U.S. Open tennis tournament together.

Gunderson and the team are still friends, as well.

“Gundy’s remained a big part of all of our lives,’’ according to Erickson, who said some of the women bring their kids back to hit with him. “He’s very encouraging. He’s just really engaged in all of our lives.’’

The success for the Blue Devils didn’t slow down after the state championship either, which now includes numerous trips to the State Tournament.

“I think it’s a culture. It’s just a culture of volunteerism. If you grow up in Virginia you want to be part of that tennis program,’’ Erickson said.

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