Jesse aces first boys state singles title for Homestead
Highlanders seek team title this weekend
Mequon — Homestead sophomore WIAA Division 1 state singles tennis champion Alex Jesse truly has played the winner's part these last few weeks.
Not only did he fight off three set points against Brookfield East's Drew Lied in his semifinal win last Saturday at the state individual tournament, he then beat back nerves after falling behind 3-0 in the first set of his title match with Damon Niquet of Marquette later in the day.
That allowed him to sleep the sleep of the just on the ride home back from Madison.
"I really don't remember any of it (the ride)," Jesse said. "I really must have been out (laughs)."
He's also very sincere in what he says, when he notes that his triumph won't mean as much if the Highlanders aren't able to come back from Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison this weekend with a gold state championship team trophy.
"That would be a way bigger deal," he said. "It would be an upset (over defending champion Marquette), but we're confident and ready to play."
Some bench help
But the attitude of a champion really came about a week earlier, when Jesse (32-1) and the rest of the Highlanders worked with parents Dave Mattson and John Mikkelson in putting together some very nice brand-new crossover benches for the Homestead courts.
The team presented them to long-time coach Jackie Egelhoff at its recent banquet.
"We had played at Germantown earlier in the season and we saw the wonderful benches that had been put in by an Eagle Scout troop," Egelhoff said.
"Lo and behold a few of the parents thought that this would be a 'good surprise,' " Egelhoff said. "(Dave) Mattson framed them up and the guys (on the team) spent a Sunday staining them and then they surprised me at the banquet.
"I was in the middle of my speech, and I saw (John) Mikkelson in the corner and I was wondering why he was there (his children are graduated already)," she said. "Then I found out. I already owe John so much for our nice little clubhouse (we have by the courts), but here the kids go in their grubby clothes on a Sunday and put in some good hard work.
"It means a lot."
Almost as much as Jesse's title, the first boys singles crown in school history. It also gives the Highlanders a clean sweep of state singles titles in the school year (Aly Coran repeated on the girls side last fall) and it also gives the boys three state years with an individual championship, having won doubles championships in 2008 and 2009.
"I'm just very excited by it all," said Jesse. "It's great to finish first and be the first singles champion here. Also to do it against all those great players (who are my friends)."
The best part of the day came during the third set of the 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 triumph over Niquet in the finals. "I'd had a mental letdown in the second set," Jesse said, "and he took advantage of it. He just played really solid in that set, too, but in the third set there was a lot of energy and intensity and it really helped that I had the whole team (line up along the railing at Nielsen) there boosting me.
"It was just great tennis," Jesse said. "The set was a lot closer than the score indicated. What really helped me win it was not so much my physical game, but my mental and emotional game. It really helped me hang in there."
Egelhoff agreed with her protégé's assessment.
"Oh my, to see his maturity, down 3-0 in the final, down three set points in the semi," she said. "That's pretty much the definition of mental toughness. He was just amazingly calm. It was so impressive to see that."
Doubles duo takes third
Egelhoff was also happy for the doubles team of Connor Peck and Bryce Toburen (28-4), knocking off the top seed from Kenosha Tremper in the third place match, 6-3, 6-3, to hold their seed. Peck had won a state doubles crown with the now-graduated Cameron Mikkelson the year before.
The pair only lost to the eventual champions from Marquette in a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, semifinal thriller.
"That match was so good that Alex was complaining that no was watching his (semifinal)," laughed Egelhoff.
But that's just the way the team is built, noted the veteran coach. They watch out for each other, no matter who's playing on what court.
"The whole team is exceptional that way," she said. "They're always together. They really are. Even after we come home (from matches), if it's not dark or raining, they'll head out onto the courts for some silly, fun tennis game."
You know, championship-type stuff.
ALEX JESSE'S ROUTE TO THE TITLE: Friday's matches: Defeated Beaver Dam, 6-0, 6-0; beat Kenosha Tremper, 6-1, 6-3; downed Eau Claire Memorial, 6-1, 6-3.
Saturday's matches: Semifinals: beat Drew Lied of Brookfield East, 7-5, 7-5. Finals: beat Damon Niquet of Marquette, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
DIVISION 1 TEAM TOURNAMENT
5:30 p.m. Friday June 11
Eau Claire Memorial (16-3) vs. Green Bay Preble (15-6)
Middleton (9-0) vs. Homestead (8-1)
Marquette (8-0) vs. Brookfield Central (19-5)
Waukesha South (16-7) vs. Kenosha Tremper (8-1)
Semifinals: 9 a.m. Saturday
Championship: 2 p.m. Saturday
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