Minnetonka’s Sarah Shahbaz returned a serve from Becker’s Courtney Nuest on Tuesday in the Class 2A tennis state tournament team competition. Photo: ANTHONY SOUFFLE • email@example.com
Sarah Shahbaz lives in Ham Lake but has open-enrolled in the Minnetonka School District for her entire academic life, drawn by its Chinese immersion program.
Until this season, however, Shahbaz’s tennis life had been strictly USTA. High school tennis had never been in the picture.
At the urging of longtime friend and current teammate Annika Elvestrom, Shahbaz decided to play for the Skippers this season. And she’s glad she did.
Shahbaz, a freshman, played No. 1 singles for much of the year. She was little nervous Tuesday before the Class 2A quarterfinals at Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota. But she didn’t let that affect her play, defeating Becker’s Courtney Nuest 6-0, 6-0 and helping No. 2-seeded Minnetonka to a 7-0 victory over the Bulldogs, a first-time entrant.
“I always wanted to play on a team that cares about other things and not just your own result,” Shahbaz said. “I’m definitely glad I did this. The whole experience has exceeded my expectations. Everyone cheers for each other. It makes you want to win more.”
While becoming friends during USTA tennis, Elvestrom and her sister, Karina, had been talking at length to Shahbaz about playing for the Skippers. When Shahbaz entered high school this year, they figured the time was right. They went out of their way to make the transition to high school tennis as easy as possible, opening their home to her when circumstances made it difficult for Shahbaz to make the trip home.
“She’s been a great addition to the team,” Annika Elvestrom said. “We basically said anything she needs, we’ll help. She even stays at our home if she needs to. My sister and I joke that it’s nice to have another tennis person there.”
The addition of Shahbaz has elevated Minnetonka, already balanced and deep, to solid state-championship contender. The Skippers lost two tight 4-3 matches to favorite Edina during the season. In the final meeting, Minnetonka held a 3-2 lead and had two match points at No. 2 doubles but couldn’t close out the match.