Dave Edwards wasn’t sure if he’ll be able to get to this week’s state girls tennis tournament.
It’ll feel strange to the former Rochester Mayo girls tennis coach if he doesn’t make it. Because this time of year, he’s conditioned like one of Pavlov’s dogs, automatically aiming himself in the direction of Minneapolis in mid-October, annual site of the girls state tournament. No. 5 Mayo plays No. 6 Elk River in the first round of the meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Edwards spent 21 of the previous 25 years making that trip with his team, first to the 98th Street Racquet and Swim Club in Bloomington, then the last number of years to the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center. Since 1997, the only time Mayo has not made it to state was in 2012, when Rochester Century beat it in the state-qualifying Section 1AA championship.
It was a sparkling run for Edwards, who after 25 years at the Mayo helm and five second-place state finishes and nine third places, turned the head job over to his able and forever girls assistant Jeff Demaray.
Until three years ago, the two reversed roles each spring, with Demaray the head Mayo boys tennis coach and Edwards his assistant. Edwards made his final season with the boys program in 2016, then bid adieu to the girls following last season.
It’s left him a man without a tennis program, a first for him in 28 years. Edwards had tennis stops at Mankato West and John Marshall before taking over at Mayo in 1995.
So this has been different.
“I miss the relationships with the girls players, I miss the state tournament and I miss the other coaches,” said the 53-year-old Edwards. “Those are the biggest things. But I don’t miss going to two-a-day practices in the summer, I don’t miss the bus rides, and I don’t miss giving up my Saturday’s (for tennis).”
While Edwards has kept himself busy by adding a real-estate job to his long-time duties as Mayo physical education teacher, those that were around him so long in and around the Spartans tennis program can’t help but think of him often.
At the top of that list are Demaray and Mayo Activities Director Jeff Whitney. There are way too many fond memories there to have made this parting of ways easy.
“Dave was a lot of fun, absolutely,” Demaray said. “Coaching together, we talked about a lot of different issues, about tennis players, about what is going on at home. He is a great friend and we had a lot of fun. I definitely miss him.”
Seeing Demaray and Edwards coaching Mayo tennis together was automatic, in the fall with the girls, then in the spring with the boys. Like jelly layered over peanut butter. Demaray’s focus was always the Spartans doubles teams, while Edwards concentrated on singles.
Demaray did his job while often wearing his emotions on his sleeve, his passion for tennis and this school that he graduated from obvious.
“I really enjoyed the energy that Jeff brought to the program,” Edwards said. “The guy is (Mayo colors) green and gold all the way through. Seeing his passion for tennis and high school tennis has always been great.”
While Demaray was the outwardly intense one, Edwards was the opposite. Calm and cool to the core, Edwards rarely showed his emotions, even in those times when he was brimming with them.
“That is just my personality,” Edwards said. “There were times when I was not calm inside, but most of the time I really was.”
Their divergent personalities sure worked when it came to directing these girls and boys teams. Both programs have been forever dominant, routinely ranked in the top 10 in the state, the boys winning state titles twice (2007, 2011), and the girls with all of those state runner-up finishes — second always to historically great Edina.
Edwards’ cool, mixed with Demaray’s fire was the ideal mix.
“Dave’s and Jeff’s personalities complemented each other so well,” Whitney said. “Jeff was the more intense and animated one, while Dave would calm a match down or offer a player one or two words of wisdom to help them be successful. There weren’t a lot of roller-coaster rides with Dave.”
But Edwards said it was one heck of a ride, one he’ll always cherish, and one that he and Demaray always navigated sharing one overriding philosophy. It was that this tennis high school tennis experience had to be fun, for them, but especially for the player.
“You’ve got to make it something that the kids love,” Edwards said.