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One for the ages: HHS boys tennis team comes perilously close to first title

Jesse battles MU's Niquet to the end

June 14, 2011

Mequon - An opportunity lost, but maybe some history made.

That's all Homestead boys tennis coach Jackie Egelhoff could take out of the thrilling, frustrating, exciting and draining, 4-3 loss her squad suffered to now five-time state champion Marquette in the finals of the WIAA state team tournament Saturday in Madison.

And all she can ask is 'What if?' because if her No. 1 guy, her last man on the court, her 2010 state singles champion and probably the only kid she would trust to drive the van home, Alex Jesse, was in one piece and 100 percent, the Highlanders are probably celebrating their first-ever state championship.

"It was just so exciting," said Egelhoff. "Even the WIAA people were saying that this is the way the team final should be. This close, this exciting.

"…You want the kids to give 100 percent and leave it all on the court."

"… Oh, it's all right. I'm fine, but you could feel it on the court and see it in the kids (the disappointment)."

How intense was this, the first 4-3 Division 1 final since Marquette beat Nicolet by that score in 2002?

Very.

Eight of the 16 sets played went to seven games (for the winner) with three tiebreakers.

How close was Homestead to getting victory elsewhere?

Homestead's Ben Wilson and Peter Apfelbach had the Hilltoppers' Dan Ebsen and Connor Muth on the ropes before falling, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2 at second doubles.

The same could be said for the Hilltoppers' Troy Holland and Adam Hurrie, who were ousted in a surprisingly good effort by Homestead's third doubles team of Nick Rush and Andrew Weitzer (7-5, 3-6, 6-1).

And then there was the biggest upset of the day, as Homestead freshman Danny Coran pulled a huge upset at second singles, turning in a fine 6-4, 7-6 win over Marquette's Matt Lynch.

"And Lynch had just buried him (Coran) earlier this year," said Egelhoff.

Other matches included Marquette's Alex Smith beating Will Kammerait, 7-5, 6-2, at third singles and the Highlanders' Adam Bodner downing Marquette's Greg Raster, 6-4, 6-3.

At first doubles, the Highlanders Justin Kirtley and Nikhil Ramnarayan dropped a 7-5, 6-2 decision to Marquette's C.J. Armbrust and Jack Porritt.

In short, it was much different from the 7-0 pasting the Hilltoppers inflicted on the Highlanders last year.

But in the end, it still came down to first singles. The previous week, Jesse suffered an ill-time case of cramps and fell to the Hilltoppers' Damon Niquet in the state individual singles finals.

His situation would get only worse in the team finals.

"He was up 5-4 in the first set and ran for a forehand and fell on his hand," said Egelhoff. "After a medical timeout, they taped him up and then the hand started to swell. He then realized he could hardly hold the racket.

"His main weapon is a two-handed backhand and after that, he couldn't use it. He tried using a one-handed slice, which got better as the match went on, but it wasn't the same. Not the weapon it was."

Compounding Jesse's problems, he did not hit last week until Wednesday or Thursday because he had to recover from the cramping issue at individual state.

"On Friday, he says he feels great," said Egelhoff, "but then he goes to warm-up for the first match (the 7-0 quarterfinal win over Green Bay Preble last Friday) and then he tells us he's in pain, like a shin splint and they (the medical staff think there might be a slight tear).

"We leave it up to him and he ices it. He knows how to deal with it, but by the semifinal (a 5-2 win over Eau Claire Memorial) he wasn't running or jumping well at all because he was trying to save his leg for the final."

To his credit, Niquet, who had missed time this spring himself due to injury, took advantage and eventually claimed a 7-5, 7-6 decision in the last match of the tournament and the ultimate tiebreaker.

Nonetheless, Egelhoff was proud of Jesse and the entire team.

"He wanted to be out there, he wanted to be the last match," said Egelhoff of Jesse, "but isn't it just amazing. I just felt so bad for the kid. He had been playing so well these last few weeks. I just can't give him enough credit for trying to fight through.

"He was a real team player. He was there for the team."

The Highlanders were even able to make a little fun of the situation on the way home, when a piece of luggage fell and crashed to the floor of the van.

"'Oh, I said, was that Alex's arm finally falling off?'" Egelhoff said. "Everyone got a good laugh out of it."

The match between Niquet and Jesse even impressed someone else who had championship aspirations and who had lost to both of them in tough fashion earlier this season.

"The grit and heart that both Alex and Damon showed was just unbelievable," said Whitefish Bay first singles player Jack Larsen. "Wasn't that just amazing?"

Yes, it was.

Best boys tennis final ever?

Marquette-Homestead duke it out in epic match

Is a repeat in the cards?: The Highlanders and Hilltoppers could be looking at round three in the finals next spring as both return the entirety of their powerhouse singles' lineups. The Hilltoppers will have a slight edge in doubles, having to replace only two of six players while Homestead will have to deal with the graduations of Kirtley, Wilson and Rush.

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