Veteran Nicolet girls tennis coach Tim Koppa knows his Knights are going to be chasing North Shore Conference rival Homestead all fall.
The Highlanders got a vast infusion of freshmen talent plus a key transfer and have dominated early statewide tournament play.
But the Knights, with an experienced and talented doubles group and some veteran singles players who have adapted to playing at a higher level, are not holding back.
Most recently, the second-ranked Knights dominated the Eau Claire Memorial Invitational (Aug. 22 and 23) and then finished third in the powerhouse Brookfield Central Invite (Aug. 25 and 26).
"We've had three big tourneys, and I've been really pleasantly surprised," Koppa said. "We lost our first and second singles to graduation, and our three and four players moved into those spots. They've been taking some lumps, but they've also been winning some matches, too.
"And our doubles teams have been doing a great job."
The Knights will open North Shore Conference dual-meet action this week with a pair of matches, including a tough visit to area rival Whitefish Bay on Thursday, Sept. 1. Koppa said having a high-level match like Bay on the first day of school is always a challenge for the kids.
In the Brookfield Central tourney, which was eventually won by Homestead, the Knights defeated DePere (5-2) and the host Lancers (5-2); then lost to Brookfield East (4-3); and finally beat Madison West (7-0) in the consolation match.
In the loss to East, the match broke down along singles and doubles lines. All three doubles teams, including the state runner-up pair of Annabelle Crowley and Elise Gerard and the duos of Emma Koppa and Marli Stellhorn and Jaida Drame and freshman Mia Bohlen, all won in straight sets, while the Knights' singles players all fell. Second singles player Angela Sendick dropped a tough 6-1, 1-6 (10-5) decision in the closest match.
Against Central, all three doubles teams won, and this time, Sendick pulled out a 6-2, 3-6 (10-6) victory at second singles to secure the victory.
In the Eau Claire Round Robin Tourney, Nicolet beat host Memorial (4-3), Stoughton (7-0), Stevens Point (4-3), Green Bay Notre Dame (6-1) and then North Shore rival Cedarburg (5-2) for the title. In the title match victory against Cedarburg, sophomore top singles player Amy Drame and Sendick earned impressive wins at the top two singles spots, while the doubles teams swept their matches.
Koppa said he has been very impressed with the tenacity and competitive spirit of Drame as she made the jump up from three singles last season to one singles this year.
Against Eau Claire Memorial, Gerard and Crowley dropped a 6-2, 6-2 decision, but the other two doubles teams won. In addition, the Knights picked up singles victories from Sendick at the two spot (6-1, 6-0) and Morgan Markenson (6-3, 6-2) at the four spot. Against Point, all three doubles again won, and then Markenson came up with the match-winning 6-1, 3-6 (10-7) victory at fourth singles.
Koppa said he has been moving the doubles teams around a little bit trying to pick up some quality, state-level wins for the second and third teams, who entered this week with a combined record of 25-1.
"We did that against Madison West (at the Central meet)," he said. "The kids were tired, but they knew it was an opportunity, and they took advantage of it."