Unbeaten, top-ranked and having taken down all comers, the youthful Homestead girls tennis team started the championship portion of its season with an energetic bang, winning six of seven flights in winning the North Shore Conference title Sept. 28.
"I actually thought this was a big step forward for us," said Highlander coach Jackie Egelhoff, "because this is where we want to be, this is the kind of thing we want to accomplish. I thought we came in with a very high energy level and achieved our first big goal."
The Highlanders, who won six straight league crowns between 2008-13 when they were the dominant force in state prep tennis, defeated two-time North Shore champion Nicolet for the championship.
Because of the Jewish holidays, the Highlanders had to turn around and compete in the WIAA subsectionals on Friday, Sept. 30. They passed that test easily too, as all seven entries easily advanced to the sectional competition Homestead will host on Wednesday, Oct. 5. From sectional, they will not only look to advance entries to the WIAA individual state tournament in Madison, Oct. 13-15, but will also look to win the sectional team title, which will advance them to the state team tournament Oct. 21-22.
Homestead won five consecutive state team titles between 2008 and 2012. The Highlanders are heavily favored to do so again, but Egelhoff said the team, which includes three freshmen singles' players, is not get getting ahead of itself.
"We just want to continue to play well, get a little sharper," she said. "We just want everyone playing at a high level at the right time. We are literally doing this one match at a time."
The Highlanders were doing that at the conference test. Official team scores needed to be corrected, but Homestead dominated play as second-ranked in state Nicolet was second and fifth-ranked Whitefish Bay third.
The highlight victory of the rain-spattered tournament came from the racquets of the second doubles team of Bridget Brown and Alyssa Boyer (25-6 on the season), who defeated Port Washington and Bay opponents before outlasting a Nicolet pair they had lost to several times this fall by a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) count.
"They really stepped up when they needed to," said Egelhoff of Brown and Boyer. "It was an impressive win."
Nicolet coach Tim Koppa agreed.
"I'll give credit where credit is due," he said. "It takes a lot to beat my doubles' teams, and those kids (Brown and Boyer) played very well in that final."
At first doubles, the Highlander duo of Frankie Lalonde and Sasha Shapsis (24-1) beat Germantown and Bay opponents before continuing their season-long rivalry with the Nicolet top team, beating them by a 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) count. The third doubles team of Helen Watkins and Grace Crowley (27-5) made a clean sweep on the doubles' courts with wins overt Port, Nicolet and Bay (6-2, 6-2) pairs.
In singles, Homestead won three of the four flights as top player Katya Mikhaelenko (25-1) downed Cedarburg, Bay and Nicolet (6-2, 6-1) foes for her crown, while at second singles, Andie Weise (29-2) beat Germantown, Bay and Nicolet (6-1, 6-2) and at third singles Natalie Yang (32-1) defeated Port, Cedarburg and Nicolet (6-1, 6-4) foes for her title.
Preventing the clean sweep was Nicolet's Morgan Markenson at fourth singles. The Highlanders' Jamie Gebhardt (30-2) had beaten her several times this season, but Markenson pulled out a 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 upset in the final.
"Jamie wasn't happy that she lost," said Egelhoff, "but sometimes you learn more with a tough loss like that."
And though this is just the first of the major goals for Homestead, Egelhoff said the team did go out and celebrate.
"They've done that after very big meet this season if they didn't have homework or other obligations," she said. "There's been a lot of good team bonding going on."