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It wasn't the most settling or satisfying of WIAA state individual tournaments for the unbeaten and top-ranked Homestead girls tennis team Oct. 13-15.

But it may have served the purpose of clarifying the focus and making laser-tight the vision of the major goal that still lies ahead for the Highlanders.

A WIAA state team title.

And on a team loaded with freshmen, it was up to senior top singles player Katya Mikhailenko to get everyone back on the straight and narrow according to a grateful coach Jackie Egelhoff.

"She said, "The ultimate goal is still there. We want to win team state,' " Egelhoff said. "She really has been a good leader, a good captain. She really worked hard to motivate everyone last weekend."

That motivation will continue this week, as the Highlanders prepare to make a run at their sixth state title and their first since their run of five in a row ended in 2012.

The 24-0 Highlanders will open state team play at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, back at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison when they take on Brookfield East (17-10) in a quarterfinal dual. If they win that, they will get a semifinal at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, against North Shore rival and second-ranked Nicolet.

The Highlanders have beaten the Knights on several occasions this fall, mostly by 5-2 counts, but Egelhoff knows it only takes one bad match to spoil a lot of big dreams. The final will be at 2 p.m. Defending champ Neenah is the top team on the other side of the bracket.

"We know we'll have a battle on our hands," she said. "The girls know they have to put in some hard work this week. They need to work hard and be confident."

Because in some areas last weekend at individual state, confidence was shaken just a little bit.

Some of the unsettling came internally, as in the quarterfinal matchup between Mikhailenko and Highlander freshmen second singles player Andi Weise.

Weise came out, played hard and upset her third-seeded teammate by a 7-6, 6-1 count.

Egelhoff said it was not a fluke, and it was not a matter of Mikhailenko tightening up.

"Simply put, Andi had everything working for her; she played marvelously," Egelhoff said. "Just phenomenal. But it happens sometimes at state (when ones and twos from the same team play in a match). It's psychologically difficult. The environment is so unusual that you just don't know how people will react sometimes."

Weise (35-4) went on to fall to eventual runner-up Isabelle Lee of Bay Port (6-3, 6-1) in the semifinals and then to Brookfield East's Emma Corwin (6-4, 7-5) in the third-place match.

Meanwhile, Mikhailenko (32-3) picked herself up and rallied to beat an Eau Claire Memorial opponent in the consolation semifinals (7-5, 6-2) before falling in the fifth-place match to Logan White of DSHA (3-6, 6-4, 7-6).

'Katya still had a marvelous tourney," Egelhoff said, "and she reminded everyone that she's still the leader of this team. I know she's disappointed, but she should still feel proud."

The doubles was even more interesting for the Highlanders as the top-seeded team of Frankie La Londe and Sasha Shapsis (32-2) cruised into the semifinals, including a 6-1, 6-0 third-round win over teammates Alyssa Boyer and Bridget Brown (29-8). There they ran into their old North Shore rivals, Elise Gerard and Annabelle Crowley of Nicolet.

The two teams had met many times this fall already, with the Highlanders only losing once. And they had the match in hand, up 4-2 in the third set with the serve, but they couldn't quite hold on, losing the next four games to lose the match, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

"They got just a little tight, and the Nicolet girls continued to play hard," Egelhoff said. "It was a battle of emotions."

Nicolet went on to fall in the state final to a team from Neenah, while the Highlander pair regained their footing and beat an Eau Claire Memorial duo, 7-5, 6-4, for third.

Now that all the individual drama is over, Egelhoff said it's time to take care of some major business. But she said she's going to make sure this week is not all hard work and drudgery.

"These kids have been truly phenomenal all season," she said, "and we're all looking forward to this opportunity. It's something you don't get to experience too often, so they should enjoy it."

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