The Whitefish Bay boys tennis team was packing up and moving out by the time the Homestead squad happily hoisted singles player Will Kammerait onto their shoulders.
It was a discreetly done note of celebration at well-played North Shore Conference tournament May 19 and 20 as the Highlander's freshman Kammerait outlasted his Blue Dukes frosh counterpart Wentong Zhang in a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 thriller of a third singles final.
That victory gave the Highlanders the team championship by the narrowest of margins over Bay and evened up what is now rapidly becoming an epic rivalry at one-apiece between the two evenly matched opponents.
It was also the final stunning piece of tangy zest on what veteran Nicolet coach Tim Koppa called "the best conference tournament" he's ever seen.
And he has a point, as the finals in four of the seven flights went to three sets, and the remaining three title matches all had their moments of drama, too.
But none could match the energy surrounding Kammerait and Zhang. Three weeks ago, Zhang had edged Kammerait in a three-hour, three-set thriller that gave Bay its first dual meet win over Homestead in many years.
As it was on Friday, everyone huddled around the pair's court that day, as they had the last match going.
"Like we did last time, we tried to tell him (Kammerait) that it was close (in the team rankings) but that we weren't counting points," Homestead coach Jackie Egelhoff said. "We tried to keep the pressure off him, but I think he (Kammerait) had a pretty good idea of where things stood. He's a smart kid."
Because the math was simple: If Zhang won, Bay would win the team title by one point and if Kammerait won, Homestead would win by three.
Blue Dukes co-coach Phil Kelbe couldn't get over the irony of the situation.
"It came down to a case of déjà vu," he said, "and again it was the last match of the tournament. I felt bad for Wentong. There he was again with everyone watching. And we emphasized to him that we didn't lose this (the overall title) because of him. We win as a team and we lose as a team.
"Of course it's disappointing to lose. You don't get these chances all of the time, but give credit to Will (Kammerait). He just played a little better this time.
"… What a great tournament," Kelbe said. "The quality of play was just very good."
Homestead scored 33 points while Bay had 30 and Nicolet was third.
The Highlanders won three individual titles including at first singles with defending state singles champion Alex Jesse (23-1) beating Bay's Jack Larsen, 7-6, 6-2; while Kammerait (22-4) earned his first league championship at three.
In a bit of an upset, the Highlanders Nikhil Ramnarayan and Justin Kirtley (15-7) beat Nicolet's Richard Kim and Trevor Katzban, 2-6, 7-6, 6-2, for the first doubles' title.
Bay picked up championships from Ben Foran (18-4) at two singles, as he outlasted Homestead's Danny Coran, 7-5, 7-6; and from Matt Kavanagh (21-1) at four singles, as he defeated the Highlanders' Adam Bodner, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Nicolet claimed the two and three doubles' positions, as the second squad of Jonathan Lopez and David Winston (14-1) beat Homestead's Peter Apfelbach and Ben Wilson, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; and James Ethington and Adam Ziv-el (18-2) defeated Bay's Graham Martens and Peter Sandvick, 6-4, 6-1.
Koppa praised the effort of Lopez and Winston as they had lost to that same Homestead duo just a couple of weeks earlier and noted that top junior varsity player Natan Barash filled in for the ill Brendan Barker at first singles and did well to take fourth.
"We were looking for the sweep in doubles," he said, "but it just didn't work out. Give credit to the Homestead kids (at first doubles), though. That's the best I've seen them play."
Which he said was happening all over the courts at Nicolet and Bay during the tournament.
"I just told Jackie at one point, this is the best set of finals I've ever seen," Koppa said. "Every match was just ultra-competitive."
Which at the end, left Egelhoff breathing a sigh of relief.
"This was easily the closest tourney in terms of competition that I've ever seen," she said. "We just came out of there going 'Woah!'
"I tell you, everyone in the North Shore should be proud of themselves."
WIAA play starts
Bay, Nicolet and HHS all advance full teams to sectionals
UP NEXT: WIAA sectional play. The defending state runner-up Homestead squad dominated the sub-sectional it hosted on Monday and now sends a full team to the sectional Thursday at the Fox Cities Racquet Club in Appleton. Meanwhile, Bay and Nicolet tied with 22 points apiece out of the sub-sectional Bay hosted. The pair now tries to unseat defending state champion Marquette at the Greenfield sectional Thursday.
STATE QUALIFIERS: The top four finishers in flight one of singles and doubles and the winner of flight two in singles and doubles advance to the state individual tournament in Madison on June 2-4. The team winner of the sectional advances to the state team tournament, also in Madison on June 9-11.
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