The momentum of winning a Great Northern Conference title did not carry over for the Rhinelander High School girls' tennis team come WIAA tournament time.
The season is over for the Hodags following Monday's subsectional round in Stevens Point and Wednesday's sectional round in Eau Claire. Rhinelander's No. 1 doubles team of Jackie Wells and Alex Oestreich was the only Rhinelander entry to make it through the subsectional. However, the duo was promptly eliminated Wednesday morning in the sectional quarterfinals.
"It was not the day we had hoped for," coach Bob Heideman said following Monday's sectional round. "We lost too many of the close matches and sets. That made the difference. We had four three-setters and a tie-break set and we lost them all (except one)."
Because they were in the No. 1 doubles bracket, Wells and Oestreich needed only one win to advance to sectionals. They got it with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Marshfield's Lauren Weigel and Emily Weis, but Heideman said even that win wasn't easy.
The Hodag pair was up 5-1 in the second set before Marshfield rallied to reel off three straight games.
"What created the tension was, recently, Jackie and Alex have had trouble holding on to similar leads," Heideman said. "But at 5-4, they closed out the game and the match."
After earning the No. 4 seed in the subsectional, Wells and Oestreich ran into the top seed in the Menomonie subsectional, Eau Claire Memorial's Kimberly Harvey and Katie Rentzepis, in Wednesday morning's sectional final. With an automatic berth in the WIAA state tournament on the line, the Memorial pair rolled 6-1, 6-0.
"The match was closer than the score indicates, a lot of deuce games," Heideman said. "Memorial played well in terms of closing games, as the match went on they just got more confident, a few too many errors on our part.
"Jackie and Alex have had a great season which they invested a lot of hours in. For four summers they put 100 or more hours of tennis in. Neither of them had been to the sectional before. They were dedicted athletes who were fun to coach."
Rhinelander was stopped one match shy of qualifying for sectionals in five of the other six flights on Monday. The biggest upset came at No. 3 singles, where Kaylee Pontell was shocked by Antigo's Margo Kelly, 7-6 (4), 6-2, and was denied a spot at sectionals, after a year after placing second at sectionals at No. 4 singles.
"It seems the momentum of winning the first set is critical in this matchup and after losing a close tiebreaker, Kaylee found herself quickly down 1-5 and couldn't dig herself out," Heideman said.
Pontell finished the year with a 26-4 record and led the Hodags in victories for the seconds season in a row.
Elsewhere in singles, Annika Johnson found herself playing Antigo's Avery Nicholson for the third time this season, with a trip to sectionals on the line. Johnson, as the No. 5 seed, raced out to a 6-2 win in the first set, but could not maintain the momentum as Nicholson rallied to take the final two sets 6-3, 6-0.
At No. 2 singles, Kenedy Van Zile (22-5) fell to second-seeded Claire Peterson of Wausau East 6-1, 6-3 in the second match of the day. That came after a 6-1, 6-1 win for Van Zile over Wisconsin Rapids' Bellah Vinter in the opening match.
"The easy points off serve discouraged (Vinter). You could tell by her body language," Heideman said. "In her second match, East (Peterson) just out Kenedy-ed, Kenedy. They had similar games but more often East was on the winning end of the points."
Rhinelander had another close call at No. 2 doubles. Lisa White, in the lineup after tweaking her ankle last week in a non-tennis incident, teamed with Kathryn Borski to nearly make it through to the sectional. After defeating Wausau West's Madeline Bizjak and Mia Hoehn 6-4, 6-4 in the first round, White and Borski went three sets with Wausau East's Elizabeth Boulanger and Lillie Faulkner before losing, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
"Lisa and Kathryn had a tough first match and then had a long tougher second match," Heideman said. "I give them credit for coming back in the second set. They were within a couple of points of pulling the comeback off."
Izzy Haverkampf and Jaiden Thiel ended up as the fourth seed at No. 3 doubles and played a marathon match with fifth-seeded Sophia Wardour and Kiara Coombs of Wisconsin Rapids before prevailing 7-5, 1-6, 6-1. Haverkampf and Thiel then fell to top-seeded Christina Chin and Ana Paape of Marshfield, 6-3, 6-2.
"They responded with their best effort of the season. They were moving well with energy but Marshfield was just too athletic and ran down a lot of shots," Heideman said.
Kat Metropulos fell in her only match of the day, a loss to Wisconsin Rapids' Kelly Alenka in three sets, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
"We gave it solid effort but came up little short," Heideman said. "Regrettably at this point of the season, that sends you home."
The tournament result also brought to a close the careers of Rhinelander's six seniors - Van Zile, Wells, Oestreich, White, Haverkampf and Thiel. Heideman said, as to be expected, the sting that comes with playing your final match was apparent for the seniors.
"I hope they can focus on what they accomplished this year," he said "This year we had more seniors in the varsity lineup than ever before. They will be sorely missed and that hole will be very, very, very hard to fill."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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