If it is not clear to everyone in the world of Wisconsin girls prep tennis that the North Shore Conference is going to be the decisive factor in determining WIAA state champions this fall, they got disabused of that notion last weekend when, in Nicolet's rain-spattered annual powerhouse Sweet 16 tournament on Sept. 9 and 10, the league earned the top three spots.
Top-ranked and unbeaten Homestead won five flights, including all four singles, in claiming the title, while the second-ranked host Knights claimed one flight and took second. Fifth-ranked Bay used its depth to earn third.
"This does speak well for the conference," said Nicolet coach Tim Koppa. "It speaks very well."
Homestead coach Jackie Egelhoff breathed a sigh of relief that her young team was able to pass another set of serious tests. The Highlanders all but clinched the North Shore Conference dual-meet title on Sept. 8, when they downed Nicolet, 5-2.
"What's clear right now," she said, "is that we've played a lot of good teams closely. We've had a busy schedule, and we're looking forward to getting some practice days in because there are things we can improve on. We'll just try to get better and not worry about the rest."
The three North Shore powers will be back at it on Saturday, Sept. 17, when Koppa and Nicolet are back in the hosting business again, with an eight-team dual-meet format tournament that will add in Brookfield Central, Brookfield East, Green Bay Notre Dame, DSHA and Neenah.
"This one will be a walk in a park in terms of organization," Koppa said, laughing.
The Sweet 16 was anything but, but Koppa and the other organizers lucked out that the iffy weather on Sept. 9 bypassed the various North Shore area sites and let all of the first two rounds of play get in.
Play was scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 10, but early-morning rains pushed everything back until 11:30 a.m.
"Still, we were very close to getting things done by 4 p.m.," Koppa said.
All told, about six sites were used in hosting the event.
To show that Koppa had not lost his sense of his perspective at the end of the two exhausting days, he let assistant coach Amy Spence go home early so she could celebrate her 30th birthday.
"She would have preferred it not to have rained," chuckled Koppa.
Homestead, meanwhile, is still laughing all the way to the bank as it dominated the tournament with a lineup that includes three freshmen singles players, all who won their respective flights.
Senior Katya Mikhailenko claimed the first singles title with a 6-1, 7-6 win over DSHA's Logan White, while at two singles Andie Weise rallied for a 4-6, 6-0 (10-8) triumph over DSHA's Jordan Schifano in the final. At third singles, Natalie Yang overwhelmed her field, including a 6-0, 6-1 triumph over Oshkosh North's Morgan Moxon in the final. At fourth singles, Jamie Gebhardt outlasted Nicolet's Morgan Markenson, 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the final.
In addition, the Highlanders' third doubles team of Helen Watkins and Grace Crowley downed Bay's Nicole Steinmetz and Grace Riedl, 7-6, 7-5, for its title.
The one disappointment for the Highlanders came at first doubles, as in the battle of heavyweight duos, Nicolet's Elise Gerard and Annabelle Crowley outlasted the Highlanders' Frankie La Londe and Sasha Shapsis, 4-6, 7-6, (10-5). It was the first victory for Gerard and Crowley over the Homestead duo in three tries and was just two days after La Londe and Sasha had beaten Gerard and Crowley in straight sets in the Sept. 8 dual meet.
"Obviously we've played them before, but I saw them (the Nicolet pair) earlier (in the tournament), and I noticed they were playing very well," said Egelhoff.
Koppa was obviously pleased with the outcome.
"They had beaten everyone they should have before," he said of Gerard and Crowley, "but they needed that good singular win, and it was good to finally see them play the way they should because they (the Homestead team) had really kicked our butts on Thursday."
Shapsis and La Londe had won, 6-2, 6-3, in the dual meet.
Homestead's second doubles team of Bridget Brown and Alyssa Boyer earned fourth.
"We always look forward to this," Egelhoff said. '"The competition is just so good, and we get to see a lot of teams we haven't before."
She noted that Yang is playing exceptionally well at this point.
Egelhoff was also grateful for Koppa for his hard work in putting together an individually-flighted tournament when so many tournaments in the fall are a dual-meet variety.
"Really, kudos to Tim to take that on because it's not easy to do," Egelhoff said.
Nicolet's players also held up well. The second doubles team of Marli Stellhorn and Emma Koppa was a minor disappointment losing its first match of the season in the finals to a West Bend East duo, 7-6, 6-4.
Earning thirds for the Knights were Angela Sendick at second singles, Julia Bohlen at third singles and the third doubles team of Jaida Drame and Mia Bohlen. Amy Drame at first singles was fourth
"In general, I felt good about things," Koppa said. "Some flights did better than others, but we competed."
For Bay, aside from the efforts of Riedl and Steinmetz, a third was taken by Elena Deslongchamps at fourth singles, while fifths were earned by Karlotta Galten at second singles, Abby Longo at third singles and the first doubles team of Jenna Marget and Kendall Martens,