Jesse grits out epic win, but Homestead tennis team falls in state final
Marquette wins sixth straight title
Mequon - In short, it wasn't working out as planned for Homestead top singles player Alex Jesse at the WIAA State Team Tennis Tournament finale with Marquette on Saturday in Madison's Nielsen Stadium.
He was supposed to enter the court as the team's anchor, the last man standing. There to vanquish his old Hilltoppers nemesis Damon Niquet, who denied him a second state individual title in 2011 and whose team had been a large concrete roadblock to the Highlanders' long frustrated, highly coveted state team title hopes for the last three years running.
No, in his mind, the match was supposed to be tied 3-3, with a team title on the line and he was supposed to beat Niquet in a match for the ages that would earn Homestead its first-ever state team crown.
But as noted, it didn't quite work out that way, because although the pair did indeed engage in a dual for the ages, matching cramp-for-cramp, wince-for-wince and grit-for-grit as Jesse went out on a victorious 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 note, there would be no team title, no happy mob of Highlanders teammates and alumni greeting Jesse to take him off the court in triumph.
Instead, there was just his mother averting her eyes and asking her husband "Is it finally over?" as trainers and coaches went over to help both athletes. Jesse did also have some small satisfaction that his high school career had ended on a something of a positive note.
But the satisfaction quotient was indeed small for him.
Youth overcomes experience
For by that time, it was well into the evening, all the other matches had been long finished and despite its best efforts, the senior-dominated Homestead squad had fallen to the youthful Marquette squad, 5-2, for the third straight year as the Hilltoppers earned their sixth consecutive WIAA team title.
"When I went on, there were still about three matches going, and I could see that our chances weren't very good," Jesse said, "and then I saw that first doubles lost and I knew that we were done. It took me awhile to get over it but after the first set I settled down a little.
"It still hurt, because team state is far more important to me."
That much was evident, as he fought a set a cramps that started in his left hamstring, went into his right quad (large thigh muscle), descended into his right calf, and then most painfully struck his abdominal muscles. He was so incapacitated that he was unavailable for the awards ceremonies that followed.
Niquet was in almost as bad of shape, but veteran Highlanders coach Jackie Egelhoff was astounded at the level of effort that Jesse put into what eventually became just a Knight's errand at the end.
"It took him awhile to pick his head up (after realizing the team had lost)," Egelhoff said, "but after that first set, he was much calmer. He's just such a team guy. All he wants is the best for his teammates. He settled down and he played an awesome match. He was holding his stomach at the end, trying to play. They were pumping fluids into him and he still went out there.
"He was just out there playing for the team and the team was just thrilled that at least, he was able to end it the way he did."
Fighting through the pain
Jesse said there was no way he was giving up.
"It was an absolute battle," he said. "What drove me was, was that it was my last high school match and I wanted to go out with no regrets. When Damon started cramping, I couldn't believe it because he's always in such great shape. After that, I was able to win a few critical points.
"The crowd did help, too. There were lots of parents, teammates and alumni there. They really did help me because it was my last match, with my biggest rival. I was going to go out there and play my best."
And his teammates tried to help him.
Will Kammerait pulled out a 6-3, 7-6 decision at third singles, but then the Highlanders lost maddening decisions at first and second doubles. At first doubles, Nikhil Ramnarayan and Peter Apfelbach took the first set 7-5 from the state doubles champion pair of C.J. Ambrust and Connor Muth, but then fell 6-3, 7-5.
And at second doubles, Andrew Weitzer and Adam Bodner won the first set, 6-1, from Austin Budiono and Greg Raster but also couldn't hold on 7-5, 6-2.
The other three Homestead entries all lost in straight sets.
"For the seniors, this is all very sad," Egelhoff said. "They all believed they had a chance at doing this."
The seniors included the Illinois-bound Jesse, Ramnarayan, Apfelbach, Weitzer, Bodner and the third doubles team of Daniel Silber and Daniel Kleytman. The truly discouraging thing was that the ever reloading Marquette team had just two seniors on the court.
Team impressive in reaching final
Homestead had advanced to the final with impressive wins over Kenosha Tremper (6-1) and Eau Claire Memorial (6-1). Jesse and Kammerait both went 3-0 in the tournament.
Egelhoff was impressed with second singles player Danny Coran, Kammerait and also noted that sophomore fourth singles player Aaron Rempel played an "exemplary" match in his semifinal win against Memorial.
"Everyone just gave 100 percent," Egelhoff said.
Especially Jesse, who will continue playing for the team at Illinois. He has a rigorous schedule of individual tournaments coming up and will be well-prepared by the time he heads to school in the fall.
He will remember these days at Homestead.
"These were some of the best times I've ever had (playing tennis)," he said. "I really will miss it all next year."
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