The unrivaled Dusty Boyer caps his prep career with a record fourth state championship

Dusty Boyer rips a backhand during last week’s Class AA state tournament at the University of Minnesota. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

As the three-time defending Class AA state singles champion, it’s not like Dusty Boyer was going to sneak up on anybody this year. But no matter the amount of preparation, motivation or intimidation present in the rest of the field at last week’s state tournament, no one was going to beat the Forest Lake senior.

If a seismic upset had rocked the tourney at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center, it would have been Boyer’s own doing. It would have been because the pressure to accomplish the unprecedented finally got to him.

Like Boyer’s opponents, however, that scenario never stood a chance. Not for the boy who won his first state tournament match as a seventh-grader. Not for the kid who grew up playing across the country in tournaments featuring far more competition than any high school meet. And certainly not for the player who spectators marvel at for his ability to go from aloof to amazing with the stroke of one crushing forehand.

No, there would be no upset in last Friday’s state finals, just a date with destiny. Boyer breezed past Eden Prairie senior Scott Elsass 6-4, 6-2 to become the first Minnesotan of any class or era to win four individual state titles.

“In my mind, there was never any doubt Dusty would four-peat,” said Forest Lake coach Greg Patchin. “Most high school kids would crumble under the pressure of winning back-to-back titles, but Dusty has ice water in his veins.”

An unexpected test

The hype machine had been whirring all season in Twin Cities media, but there were still some seats to be had as Boyer took the court for Thursday morning’s first round. A competitive match seemed unlikely, as Hopkins sophomore Manfred Barrios was making his first state appearance. However, Barrios came out firing and it quickly became apparent that Boyer would at least have to break a sweat.

The nervous moments for Forest Lake fans only mounted as the first set wore on. Clearly unfazed by his foe’s resume, Barrios charged back from down 2-4 to take a 5-4 lead.

Boyer, who had never faced Barrios at any level, admitted that his opponent’s skill caught him off-guard.

“I didn’t think he would play quite that well,” he said. “…He was playing good and I was a little surprised.”

Coach Greg Patchin offers advice during a break in the action. The three-time defending singles champion got more than he bargained for during a two-hour first-round battle with Hopkins sophomore Manfred Barrios. (Photo by Clint Riese)

The heavy favorite dug in and won three straight hard-fought games to take the set 7-5.

The missed opportunity did not seem to affect Barrios as the second set began. After alternating the first five games, Barrios broke Boyer’s serve to go up 4-2. Even several courts down, talk stirred of a possible third set as the Hopkins underdog worked his way to an advantage point with the chance to go up three games. Boyer fought that off, then broke serve after a long rally.

The match intensified even more with Boyer serving down 3-4. In one of the best points of the contest, Boyer chased down what appeared to be a winner and Barrios hit a return wide. Boyer tied the set by moving in for a rare volley after hitting a rocket of a first serve.

The set’s ninth game went back and forth and ended when Barrios put a shot into the net. With Boyer serving for the match, Barrios forced deuce before back-to-back unforced errors ended the two-hour affair.

At the end of what seemed a grueling match, Boyer stood with a somewhat pedestrian-like line score of 7-5, 6-4.

“It was the scariest one of the tourney,” Boyer said. “My forehand was not the greatest. I was shanking it a lot.”

Barrios would go on to win the consolation title in straight sets over Princeton senior Isaiah Mayerchak.

Rolling to No. 4

Boyer’s second match on Thursday featured another foe he had never played before, Zach Ekstein of Eagan. This sophomore, though, did not have the physicality of Barrios, and Boyer rolled to a 6-3, 6-1 win.

“I didn’t have to worry about hitting as hard the whole time,” Boyer said.

Boyer also noted that Ekstein was nearly an identical player to his own brother, Toby, a ninth-grader, and said he drew on that experience.

The win moved Boyer into the semifinals, which shaped up just as he figured. Rochester Mayo senior Thomas Nath awaited in the next match, with the possibility of facing Elsass in the finals. The three have a long history and are close, and Boyer said most of their matches over the years have gone to three sets.

Other than a consistent first serve, Boyer felt very comfortable with his full repertoire as the second day of play opened.

“Everything else felt pretty good,” he said. “They still couldn’t do much with [my first serves], but I couldn’t get any free points.”

Once Boyer got through a game featuring about a dozen deuces, he rolled in the first set, 6-3. The Nebraska commit then put Nath away with a 6-1 second set.

Elsass, meanwhile, topped Edina sophomore Max Olson 6-4, 6-1 in the other semifinal.

In the finals, though, Elsass was not the only concern. Boyer played through some shoulder stiffness and also had to keep centered on his match while his brother and senior Zack Decker competed in the doubles championship on the next court.

“I was actually watching [the doubles] a little too much,” Boyer said. “There was a really long game and I wasn’t focusing enough.”

Dusty Boyer prepares for a volley, but the final shot from Scott Elsass clips the net, ending the championship match at the Class AA state tennis meet in Minneapolis on Friday. (Photo by TLC Digital Images)

Forest Lake’s doubles team ended up losing in straight sets, though, and Boyer got down to business. He took the first set 6-4 and got ahead 5-1 in the second. On championship point, Elsass shot into the net. Boyer, playing up close to the net, ended up on the ground, but it was not out of celebration. He tripped on the net cord and expected the point to be taken away from him. It stood, however, and Boyer was left to get up and smile as the crowd cheered.

“I don’t know what happened,” he laughed. “It was just the worst celebration. Nobody knew what to do. It was a little awkward.”

Fortunately, Patchin was quick to the scene and offered a hug as the record books were being re-written.

A career for the ages

To many, Boyer’s legacy atop the state annals was secured last year, when he became the first player in the modern era to win three titles. The feat had previously been accomplished under a single-class system by Dave Healey of Rochester from 1953-55 and Chuck Darley of Rochester from 1962-64.

To Patchin, the fourth title should erase anyone’s doubt. Boyer finishes his Forest Lake career with a record of 174-13, including 30-0 this season. In fact, all but one loss came in seventh, eighth or ninth grade. Boyer reached state in all six seasons and netted five Section 7AA titles.

“There is little question to anyone that follows high school tennis that Dusty is the most successful male tennis player ever and probably the best to ever lift a racquet in Minnesota,” he said.

If so, that significance is lost on Boyer himself. The Ham Lake resident felt no extra need to win this year’s championship and reported that none of the titles stands out from another.

“It feels the same, but it’s just that I won’t be able to do that ever again for the same crowd and same fans,” he said.

Players at Boyer’s level require much different coaching than their teammates, and he praised Patchin for working both with the strategic and mental aspects of his game.

“He’s helped a lot over the years,” Boyer said. “It’s been a good six years.”