Nicolet girls tennis coach Tim Koppa has always been a big fan of the WIAA team tournament.

The Knights have qualified for the event for the last six years straight as proof.

So for him, the preceding state individual tournament has always been viewed as a warm-up, a preliminary event, a time to learn some things.

The Knights, behind the surprising state doubles runner-up team of Elise Gerard and Annabelle Crowley, learned a great deal at the most recent state individual tournament at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison, Oct. 13-15, and Koppa feels it will serve them well when the state team tournament is held back at Nielsen this Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21 and 22.

Especially upstairs.

"The experience, just getting up there and playing, makes things easier on the kids," he said. "It's not such a big deal then because once you get to a certain level, about 90 percent of tennis is mental."

Crowley and Gerard broke through one major mental block, when they dropped North Shore rivals and top seeds Frankie La Londe and Sasha Shapsis of Homestead, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, in the semifinals on Oct. 15. The teams had played approximately half a dozen times this season, and this was only the second win for Gerard and Crowley.

They did it after trailing, 4-2, in the third set.

"We changed a couple of things around, but to be perfectly honest, Homestead was in control of that match," Koppa said. "They made a couple of mistakes, and we got a little momentum, and the next you thing you, we wound up winning the next four games. In our hearts, we knew we could beat them; it was just a matter of doing it."

The Knight duo eventually lost to second-seeded Christina Price and Kiki Rigaard (28-1) of Neenah, 6-3, 6-0, in the state final.

'It's not like we were that physically tired, but as we've seen with other teams, the indoor playing surface seemed to suit Neenah pretty well," Koppa said, "and they played just amazing doubles."

Still, information was passed down, and the Knights will look to use it well in the team tournament. They will take on Brookfield East in a quarterfinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at Nielsen. If they win that match, they will likely get unbeaten and top-ranked Homestead in the semifinal at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.

Nicolet has not beaten Homestead in several attempts this year, with most of the scores being 5-2.

The final will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct 22. Defending champion Neenah is the top team on the other side of the bracket.

"We gave them a day off to start the week, and then we'll go back to work," Koppa said. "All it takes is one time."

Nicolet's last state title was in 2000.

Gerard and Crowley (30-8) advanced to the semifinal round with wins over pairs from West Bend East (6-1, 6-0), Arrowhead (6-2, 6-1) and Green Bay Notre Dame (6-2, 6-3).

T'he semifinal, he said, was fun for everyone playing and watching, "but not much fun for me," he laughed.

The other Knight doubles teams acquitted themselves well, too. The second team of Marli Stellhorn and Koppa's daughter, Emma, (32-4) went 3-2 for the tournament. They advanced to the quarterfinals and were battling for fifth- and sixth-place medals, losing to a Waunakee team in the consolation semifinals (7-6, 6-2). They had lost to that same Neenah championship duo in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-0.

"I was very proud of them; they held their seed," said coach Koppa.

The third doubles team of Jaida Drame and Mia Bohlen (30-7) had a good tournament, pulling a minor upset in the first round and eventually going 2-1 overall.

"The doubles teams had a great tournament," coach Koppa said.

In singles, Amy Drame (22-11) went 2-1 for the tournament, while Angela Sendick (22-9) lost her first-round match to a player from Brookfield East.