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With a mixed bag of experience and new talent, the Homestead boys tennis team is back among its place of battling the state's elite.

The Highlanders most recently finished second in the Neenah Quad on April 29, as they defeated Arrowhead (5-2) and Eau Claire Memorial (5-2) before falling to host Neenah, 5-2.

Veteran coach Jackie Egelhoff is encouraged by what she's seeing so far.

"I think this group is one that takes things seriously," said Egelhoff. "They practice seriously and are really trying to improve. They're always looking for constant improvement."

The Highlanders had a critical North Shore Conference dual with old area rival and second-ranked Nicolet on May 2 and will now take part in the Knights' 16-team "Sweet 16" team invite on Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6. Almost every team of consequence, including top-ranked Marquette, will be at the event.

The Highlanders will build around strong singles play led by first and second position players Eric Mullins and Michael Morway, respectively.

Coming off the junior varsity, Drew Gebhardt is looking solid at third singles while a variety of players are vying for the fourth singles spot.

The doubles teams look strong this season as in the first position are veterans Tucker Gabriel and Sydan Parker while the duos of Eric Simonsen and Robby Baranko, and Joey Slicker and Matthew Simonsen are at the second and third spots, respectively.

Homestead entered this week at 10-3 in dual meet play with its only other losses being to Middleton (4-3) and defending state champion Marquette (7-0).

"And when we played Middleton, we were missing our third singles player and against Neenah, we had a few tiebreakers go against us," said Egelhoff. "That was a little disappointing, but we know we're right there."

Egelhoff likes the individual development of the team.

"Sydan (Parker) has shown great improvement and Eric Mullins has been marvelous so far. He's really dedicated himself," she said. "Michael (Morway) has also improved a whole lot too."

Looking at the big picture, Egelhoff knows its going to take a lot of work to beat Nicolet or Whitefish Bay for the North Shore Conference title, but looking down the road, she sees a good opportunity at advancing to the WIAA state team tournament, as state powers and sectional rivals Brookfield East and Central are working through some serious graduation losses.

She said a good attitude will help the Highlanders greatly.

"The kids are having a good time so far and their goals are high," she said.

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