Mental toughness for athletes can take on many aspects, including overcoming injuries, tough competition, long delays and bad weather.
Rarely do they have to deal with all of them all at the same time, but that's what the North Shore area teams at the Manitowoc Boys Tennis Invitational had to do on Saturday, May 14.
Because many of the players, coaches and the few fans who braved the 40-degree conditions with high winds were caught looking up at the dull gray sky at points during the day and saying either to themselves or out loud: 'Snow? In May? Really?'
Unfortunately, yes. Really.
But as noted, the players from Nicolet, Whitefish Bay and Homestead were tough, especially Nicolet, which prepared for the defense of its North Shore Conference title this week by winning the event.
'It was just a long, long day,' said Knights coach Tim Koppa. 'You had to hold your (dual meet) matches on just four courts. We left at 6:30 a.m. and didn't get back until 8 p.m. The guys were pretty dead.'
'But every time I think otherwise (that they will just not rise to expectations), these guys take another step forward. They continue to make believers out of me.'
Nicolet will use the title to help in its defense of its North Shore Conference title. The league tournament will be conducted at Bay and Nicolet on Wednesday, May 18, and Thursday, May 19. Nicolet broke Homestead's six-year stranglehold on the title last season, and in a competitive dual-meet season, have a slight lead heading into the tourney.
Prior to the WIAA series of tournaments next week, the WHSTCA (coaches association) will hold its Coaches Classic Tournament at many sites in the area Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21, including those on the North Shore. Koppa said only a handful of elite teams are not taking part in the event.
'It's a good, competitive tournament; we hope to keep it going,' Koppa said.
Nicolet prepared for all this with its strong effort in Manitowoc. It defeated Manitowoc Roncalli (7-0), a still injury-depleted Bay squad (6-1) and area rival Brookfield Central (5-2) for its crown.
In the win over Central, the Knights dominated the singles bracket with Rafi Barash, Jaden Aranda and Ben Chester winning straight set matches. Then in doubles, the Knights got wins from the duo of Etyan Robinson and Julian Lowe, 4-6, 7-6 (10-3), and Sunil Sabnis and Eli Winter (7-5, 6-2).
Robinson and Lowe are the Knights' regular third team, but Koppa moved them up to take on better competition twice in this tournament, and they succeeded both times.
'They're unbeaten, having a great season, but the only way to get a third doubles team to state is to move them up,' Koppa said. 'That win against Central for them was a really good match and a really good win.'
Koppa said the team had to have patience this day because of the limited court structure (teams were warned of the situation beforehand) that occasionally created long waits between matches, such as the Knights' 21/2- to 3-hour hiatus between the Roncalli and Bay matches.
Bay, which is still struggling with injuries at the top of its singles lineup, beat Ashwaubenon (7-0) before falling to Nicolet at the tournament.
The only Blue Dukes win against Nicolet was turned in by Jack Gonzales at third singles, 6-3, 5-7 (10-3), as Jacob Gurican dropped a tough 6-2, 2-6 (12-10) decision to the Knights' Thomas Nguyen at fourth singles.
Homestead recorded wins over Franklin (6-1) and Brookfield Central (4-3) at Manitowoc.
In the good win over Central, the Highlanders picked up victories from Eric Mullins, 6-7, 6-4 (10-7), and David Berman, 2-6, 7-6, (10-2), in singles and from the doubles teams of Robby Baranko and Sydan Parker, 6-7, 7-5, 10-6, and Eric Simonsen and Jeff Lalande, 6-2, 6-3.