Nicolet boys tennis coach Tim Koppa knows he and his team are beating their heads against a steel-reinforced ceiling when it comes to beating the state empire Marquette for any type of serious honors.
So, he and the Knights are going to take any kind of rewards they can, including a second-place finish to the Hilltoppers in the Brookfield East Invitational last weekend.
Nicolet beat Arrowhead in first round, 6-1, edged Neenah, 4-3, in an intense semifinal and then fell to Marquette, 6-1, in the finals. Marquette has won 10 of the last 11 WIAA state championships.
"We were chomping at the bit to get into our Saturday tournament schedule," said Koppa. "The Neenah match was the highlight for sure. We both knew going in that this match would establish who was going to be two and three in the state. All three doubles went to third-set breakers.
" It was huge match at first doubles (Eli Winter and Jack Steinberger for Nicolet). Neenah and Nicolet will both probably be top-four seeds at state and this was the first big test for us. We got a slow start and Neenah played incredible in the first set. We lost 3-6 with one break of serve. We reversed it on them in second set and won 6-3. We went down 0-5 in the 10-point breaker, but found a way to claw back in with some crazy good returns and scrappy defense. We ended up winning 10-7.
"Great, top-tier high school doubles match. We lost three doubles after being up a set and 4-1 in the second. We lost 10-6 in the third set. In singles, Jaden Aranda had a huge upset at first singles. He beat senior Jackson Atassi in three sets, winning the tiebreaker convincingly, 10-3. It was his best win as a Knight."
"We got a hard-fought straight set win from Ben Chester at fourth singles, 6-4, 6-4. It (the match) came down to second doubles. (The) dual was tied 3-3 with one match left on. Of course, it went to a third-set breaker. It went back and forth with senior Ari Robinson playing some great defense and freshman Ridley Aranda hitting some big returns and ground strokes. Ridley ended the battle and the dual with a screaming forehand winner down the line."
Koppa said in the final against Marquette, both teams put their players in random spots with the Hilltoppers pulling out an expected 6-1 win
The Knights' only match victory came from senior Joe Azbel at fourth singles.
"It was a good day," said Koppa. "We learned we can play with anyone."
Nicolet had a tough dual with archrival Whitefish Bay on April 25 and then will be in Verona this weekend for a two-day tournament.