Highlanders tennis captures fifth straight state team title
Talyansky pulls out critical victory
Mequon - The nostalgia tour has begun for the now five-time WIAA state champion Homestead girls tennis team.
It began seconds after third singles player Alex Talyansky finished off DSHA's K.K. Doering, 6-4, 6-0, in the last match of the season on Oct. 20 at the Nielsen Tennis Center in Madison, the one that secured another title with an exhausting 4-3 decision over the Dashers.
Talyansky's triumph allowed veteran coach Jackie Egelhoff to exhale at this most difficult of victories, gave senior first doubles player Sophia Lococo the rare, rare joy of going out as a four-time champion and allowed state singles champion Elizabeth Konon's father to put up a flat screen later that evening at Mama Mia's in Mequon and happily screen all the photos he had copiously taken over the two-day state tournament.
It even made certain that all the work that siblings of certain Highlanders players did not go for naught, as they decorated the vans with streamers and other fun falderal for the ride back to Mequon.
What made it more interesting was whether Talyansky really knew if she was the last one on the court for that championship dual meet.
"Oh my God, was that a moment," Talyansky said. "All those people watching me (as the last match on the court). It was kind of nerve-racking. It was my third year in that environment (team state), so I did my best to try and drown out the noise."
Which was a good idea according to her coach.
"She was trying not to think about it too hard," Egelhoff said. "We keep telling the girls to just play your match, don't look too far ahead, but the interesting thing was, she really may not have known, because (first singles player) Elizabeth (Konon) and (second singles player) Mardee (Merar) were on the opposite of the building from her.
Just focus on the match
"She could figure it out (her situation), but maybe she didn't want to. We just tell them to worry only about their own match and what they're doing and in the end it will work out."
Which was something Talyansky had already figured out.
"You're nervous going into it," she said, "but then you get on the court and it all changes. You just go out and win your match."
Which she did and shortly after the final point, Egelhoff walked up to Talyansky and gave her the great news about the team championship.
"That was a really good moment for me," Talyansky said. "I was happy to experience that. It was great that coach came out to tell me that (that we had won the team title). It really made my day (laughs)."
Her coach understood that point.
"Looking at that match, I thought about Cory Mattson (the fourth singles player who clinched the Highlanders first title in this run back in 2008)," Egelhoff said. "Alex has been so steady and now she finally got her moment in the sun."
A radiant moment worthy of sunglasses for others, too.
"Completely nerve-racking," said Lococo, who with freshman Anna Kreynin overpowered their DSHA opponents at first doubles, 6-1, 6-2, and was watching the Talyansky match from the grandstands. "It was all on that match, but we had faith in her. After that first set we got a little more comfortable."
But not too much.
"This one was not given to us," said Lococo, noting how easily the Highlanders had cruised to their titles in previous years, "and that made it a lot more meaningful."
In many ways, starting with the 4-3 Friday quarterfinal decision over Middleton.
Way back at the beginning of the season, with Konon out of town, the Cardinals had edged the Highlanders, 4-3, in a dual, a rare defeat for the champions. Middleton had entered the state tournament unbeaten.
It was a tough way to open the state tournament.
"Ya think?" laughed an incredulous Egelhoff, as individual victories from Konon, Merar, Talyansky and the state doubles championship team of Lococo and Kreynin gave the Highlanders the cushion they needed to beat the Cardinals.
Roll in semifinal
The semifinal was the rare breather in this tournament, a 6-1 decision over Green Bay Southwest as wins from junior Grace Clemons at fourth singles and the second doubles team of senior Carlie Swenson and junior Kate Weitzer added cushion to the final score.
Going into the final, Egelhoff knew that DSHA uses an unorthodox strategy of building from the doubles on up and then putting a strong player at fourth singles to try and squeeze out matches against tough teams.
It almost worked against Homestead, but not quite. Konon, Merar and Talyansky dropped only five games total in their three matches in singles and then, as noted, Lococo and Kreynin lived up to their unbeaten state individual tournament championship status with their easy win at first doubles.
Which brings us back to the forthcoming nostalgia tour.
Lococo, Swenson, third doubles team member Gillian Dyer and alternate Maddy Mayer are seniors; while Konon, Merar, Talyansky, Clemons, Weitzer and alternate Capusine Jourbert are all juniors. Dyer's partner Madeline Slicker was a freshman, but she got only 14 matches in on varsity this season as Egelhoff struggled to make the third doubles position work all season.
Last of the line?
Which leaves Kreynin as the one truly young player who gained immense experience this season.
Egelhoff knows that she and the rest of the Highlanders will have to truly enjoy next year for what it is, because it may be the last of the line.
"This one was so difficult," Egelhoff said, "and that's what also makes it sweet. It was a different group of girls. We really had to blend things, make sure everyone was on the same page. In a way, it reminded me of the first one (back in 2008)."
"And it's so cute with little Anna (Kreynin). Does she really understand all this, with that gold (state championship) medal dangling around her neck? Does she really understand what this all means?"
"This was a very tough year," she said. "We lost six seniors from last season and no one was going to give us anything. It was so hard working in new people. Developing new relationships. There were hardships, and so that's what makes this such a great accomplishment.
"To pull through all that and come out on top."
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