Excellence is expected on all fronts, academically and athletically, at schools like Nicolet.

And it takes its toll.

So when the Knight girls tennis team was being driven home after its hard-fought WIAA sectional title at Greenfield on Oct. 5, it was understandable fatigue would set in.

Veteran coach Tim Koppa could only laugh about the moment.

"It was funny," he said. "I looked back (in the bus), and the kids were sleeping. They were just done, and I totally get it. They were all thinking about school. They had missed two days of school (because of subsectional and sectional play), and that's all they could think about. They were just thinking about the hours and hours of homework they had to make up.

"It's tough on all of them, but it was a long, tough emotional day, and we came away with the victory."

And all that went with it. They won the sectional and advanced to the state team tournament in Madison, Oct. 21-22, for the sixth year in a row. Furthermore, they advanced Amy Drame (20-10) and Angela Sendick (22-8) to the state individual tournament this Thursday through Saturday (Oct. 13-15) at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison. Drame earned the seventh seed in the singles bracket.

In addition, Nicolet will also advance all three of its doubles teams as the team of Elise Gerard and Annabelle Crowley (25-7) earned the fourth seed; the second team of Marli Stellhorn and Emma Koppa (29-2) claimed the seventh seed; and the third team of Jaida Drame and Mia Bohlen (26-5) earned a special qualifier spot.

The strong sectional finish, which Koppa said was closer than the final scores (49 to 41 over Whitefish Bay) indicated, vindicated a decision he made earlier in the season about his lineup.

"People knew that I was taking a pretty big risk doing it the way I was," he said. "We could have put everybody in singles and say, 'Here, come at us,' but the sectional was awesome, and we won it the way we wanted to. We did the way that gave us the best chance at (team) state."

Team state will have the Knights challenging Sun Prairie in an Oct. 21 quarterfinal, and if the Knights win, they will get rival and top-ranked Homestead in the semifinal, a team to which they have lost several times in competitive fashion this fall.

Neenah and Eau Claire Memorial are the top teams on the other side of the bracket.

The team berth was built on many, strong individual efforts, coach Koppa said, and it wasn't decided until late in the tourney, which was moved inside about midway through the event due to rain.

"I was joking with Emily (Bay coach MacKay) about 12:30 p.m., and she said to me, 'Two hours ago, I was thinking we might win,'" Koppa said.

It was just that close.

Nicolet got flight championships from Amy Drame at first singles; Sendick at two singles; Gerard and Crowley at first doubles; and Stellhorn and Emma Koppa at two doubles.

Coach Koppa said Amy Drame was very impressive in her first singles finals win over Greendale's Valentina Kukuruzovic (15-2) and noted the second doubles team had to fight like heck to beat Bay's pair in the final.

"They used a different formation on match point, and it threw Bay off," said coach Koppa. "Emma (his daughter) came over to me later and said,  'Just to let you know, that was my idea.'

"I had been so tense up to that point, but that really let off some steam."

Coach Koppa also noted Sendick and the first doubles team did very nice work.

Drame and Bohlen were second at third doubles, while Julia Bohlen (17-16) was third at third singles and Morgan Markenson (25-8) second at fourth singles.

"It was one of those days where you never knew when an individual match would really matter," coach Koppa said.