Nicolet netters beat Bay for state team tennis berth
Third doubles match key in qualifying
Whitefish Bay girls tennis coach Michael Hayes has a sense of history about him.
He knew he was watching some being made in the WIAA sectional flight three doubles final on Oct. 9 between his pair of Maggie Bostwick and Megan Coffey and Nicolet's Marli Stellhorn and Audrey Laing.
It was the last match of the day and he knew that if his team won, the Blue Dukes claim the sectional title and head to the WIAA State Team Tournament on Oct. 25-26. Correspondingly, if the Nicolet pair won, the Knights would advance to team state.
Hayes was understandably sad following Stellhorn and Laing's 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5) decision over Bostwick and Coffey which gave the Knights their third straight WIAA state team berth and denied Bay its first state slot since 2010, but he knew he had been part of something special.
"These are the kind of match-ups a player never forgets," he said, "and this overall sectional battle is the kind of a contest that no one on either team will forget. It's like the song says, 'These are the days you will remember.'"
Everyone had to win
So will Knights coach Tim Koppa.
"They (Stellhorn and Laing) came to our rescue," he said. "We knew going into the sectional that we were in a hole (not having a fourth singles player qualify for the event). That could have been a six-point swing.
"We needed to have everyone win. Our backs were to the wall. Not in 100 years can I remember something like that happening. It was just that one match, win and we go to state, lose and they go to state. Everyone on both teams knew it. Everyone in the place knew it."
Nicolet won the sectional title held on its own courts by a 48-45 count. For their victory, the Knights will get North Shore rival and five-time WIAA state team champ Homestead in a state quarterfinal on Oct. 25 at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison. Last season, the Knights made semifinals before falling.
In addition, both Bay and Nicolet will send a large number of qualifiers to this weekend's WIAA State Individual Tournament, also back at Nielsen.
For Nicolet, the top doubles team of Sara Miller and Michelle Margolies (20-6) claimed the fourth seed and earned a bye into Friday morning's second round while the Knights' second team of Erin Wathen and Josie Docalavich (28-3) picked up the 16th seed and will play a first round match on Thursday.
In singles, the Knights' Emily Mone (19-12) claimed a ninth seed and will also play Thursday while Nina Gerard (22-9) claimed a 16th seed and will also play that day.
For Bay, Hayes' two-time, state place-winning daughter Lily (21-5) earned a fifth seed while fellow senior Asia Butler (22-9) earned a special qualifier slot.
The Blue Dukes' top doubles team of Allison Gregg and Carly Theder (8-12) also advanced.
But no one could stop talking about the third doubles final, especially Koppa, who lives for this sort of stuff and loves the quick dynamic that formed between the senior Laing and the freshman Stellhorn.
The pair had lost to Bostwick and Coffey in the semifinals of the North Shore Conference tournament the week before in another three-setter but Koppa had confidence in his duo that was only put together a few weeks ago.
"For a freshman, Marli is pretty darned determined to win," Koppa said, "and Audrey served well all day long. It (the final match) was such a tough thing. We let four match points get away. I've seen that a million times. It's rare to lose so many points like that and still win it, but they were stable."
Koppa said the major goal in the match was to keep the ball away from Bostwick. "We were just trying to contain her," Koppa said, "because she was easily the best player on the court."
Others contributed to the Knights title, too, as both Gerard sisters, Nina, at second singles, and Elise, at third singles (23-7), claimed flight championships and Laing and Stellhorn's triumph at third doubles was part of a sweep of the two-player finals for Nicolet.
Miller and Margolies took the first flight and Wathen and Docalavich the second.
For the Blue Dukes, Lilly Hayes claimed the first singles title and Gwennie O'Connell (12-5) the fourth singles flight.
For coach Hayes it was a memorable, melancholy case of "what if?" with it all coming down to that third doubles match.
"It was a great battle with the four of them on a beautiful, sunny fall afternoon, being cheered on by players, parents and spectators," he said. "It was the epitome of what high school tennis should be — and even more so because of the great tradition of matches between Nicolet and Whitefish Bay. All four played confidently and fearlessly. They played smart, consistent, aggressive doubles tennis.
"All four really emptied the tank and because of that there is certainly no one on our team who has any regrets. Players know that everyone on the team did everything possible."
In short, it was the stuff history is made of.
"When we started the day I never thought it would turn out this way," Koppa said. "Just amazing."
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