SPASH girls tennis closes out perfect WVC season
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls tennis team capped a dominant run in the Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) this season by winning the WVC Meet at Wausau East Thursday, Oct. 1.
After winning each of their six conference matches by a 7-0 score this season, the Panthers won each of the seven flights at the WVC Meet to finish with a total of 126 conference points to beat Wausau East (65) and Marshfield (58) for their third consecutive Conference Title.
The eighth-ranked Panthers followed with a first-place finish at the WIAA Division 1 Subsectional at SPASH Monday, Oct. 5, as they advanced all seven flights to the Chippewa Falls Sectional Thursday, Oct. 8, where they will look to send qualifiers to Individual State Meet, as well as earn a trip to the Team State Meet for the first time since 2004.
“I don’t think you could have a better season,” said SPASH girls tennis head coach Gary Baier, “other than losing to a couple of the very, very top teams in the state. But we were right with them in every match, so those could’ve gone either way.
“But to sweep the conference during the regular season has never been done that I know of, winning all 42 matches,” he said. “And to sweep the Conference Tournament, I can’t remember ever happening.”
This season the Panthers returned their top three singles players and five of their six doubles players from last year’s lineup, when they went 6-0 in the WVC for the second year in a row to claim their second consecutive Conference Title.
“That helps,” said Baier of retuning eight of 10 from last year’s lineup. “And then we replaced them with Sabrina Tang at No. 2 (singles), who’s probably one of the Top 20 players in the state, so that kept us pretty competitive on the singles side. And then Kaylee Bruneau stepping in at doubles, coming out as a junior, has done a great job
“So on balance, we’re actually better than we were last year,” he said. “A little more depth, and stronger at the top, for sure.”
Junior Emily Luetschwager is back for her third season at No. 1 singles, after she placed fifth at the WIAA Division 1 Individual State Meet as a freshman, and then placed fifth at state again last season as a sophomore.
“Emily right now is probably the top player in the state,” said Baier. “The girl that won it the last two years (Lexi Keberle of West Bend East) is not going to play in the tournament because she’s playing in Florida, so Emily probably will be the (No.) 1 seed or 2 seed in the state, and she deserves it.
“She just has a great work ethic, a great attitude, comes to practice every day ready to go, and probably practices after we’re done every day,” he said. “She deserves the accolades that she’s gotten, and she’s on top of her game right now.”
Senior Lily Firkus (No. 3 singles) and junior Suzie DeBot (No. 4 singles) also returned, while Tang joined the varsity lineup for SPASH this season as a freshman at No. 2 singles.
“Sabrina has been phenomenal,” said Baier. “I thought she’d be a little more inconsistent as a freshman, but she’s been rock solid. She’s been a great surprise.
“Lily is just steady as she always has been, doesn’t make a lot of errors and keeps the ball in play,” he said. “Suzie is just tenacious, she’ll never give up on a point, and if she loses it won’t be for lack of effort, that’s for sure.”
Seniors Jaide Barber and Juliet Champion also returned at No. 1 doubles after they made back-to-back trips to the Individual State Meet the last two years, including a 1-1 finish last season.
“Our (No.) 1 doubles have improved tremendously,” said Baier. “They’ve been to state twice, and just keep getting better. They’re starting to be a little more aggressive than they have been in the past, and hopefully that’ll help them get through again.”
The No. 2 doubles team of juniors Madison DeBot and Kayla Stutesman also came back after they advanced to the Individual State Meet last year, where they also went 1-1, while junior Emily Meier teamed up with a new partner at No. 3 doubles this season in Bruneau.
“Our (No.) 2 doubles team is playing great, they were at state last year also as a special qualifier, and within the last two weeks have really started to mesh and play really well,” said Baier. “And then (No.) 3 doubles, with Kaylee coming out new this year, started out a little erratic, but now are really starting to be more aggressive. They both have a good sense for doubles, and are starting to really put the pieces together.”
SPASH opened the WVC season with a 7-0 win over Wausau East Sept. 3, and added wins over Wausau West (7-0) and Marshfield (7-0) in the next week to improve to 3-0 in the conference.
The Panthers followed with 7-0 wins over Wisconsin Rapids Sept. 21 and Merrill Sept. 22, and then closed the conference schedule with a 7-0 win over D.C. Everest Sept. 24, as the team members went a perfect 42-0 in WVC matches and didn’t drop a set in any of the wins.
“When you think about it, there’s 42 matches, so that’s 84 sets without losing a set,” said Baier. “The biggest thing for me is, we ran the table during the dual-meet season, which was great.
“But then I thought maybe the gap would close in the Conference Tournament,” he said. “And it was just the opposite.”
SPASH had 42 dual-meet points to hold the conference lead over Wausau East (22) and Marshfield (21) heading into the WVC Meet at Wausau East last Thursday, where Luetschwager (27-0) won both of her matches by scores of 6-0, 6-0, to claim her third consecutive WVC Title at No. 1 singles.
Barber and Champion (19-6) also repeated as WVC Champions at No. 1 doubles, while Madison DeBot and Stutesman (22-3) also won their second consecutive WVC Title at No. 2 doubles.
Tang (26-2), Firkus (22-6) and Suzy DeBot (21-4), who won the WVC Title at No. 3 singles last year, also brought home Conference Titles in singles play, while Meier and Bruneau (20-8) won at No. 3 doubles to complete the sweep for SPASH, which again didn’t drop a set in any of the matches.
“Our victories were a little more decisive in the Conference Tournament,” said Baier. “So we’re either improving, or they’re getting worse. I like to think that we’re improving as the season goes on, and making that gap a little bit bigger.”
The Panthers were back in action at the Subsectional at SPASH Monday, where they advanced all seven flights through to Sectionals and totaled 24 points to hold the lead over Rhinelander (20) heading into the Sectional at Chippewa Falls Thursday.
There, competitors will look to earn a trip to the WIAA Division 1 Individual State Meet at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 15-17, while team scores from the Subsectional and Sectional meets will be combined, and the team with the highest point total will advance to the WIAA Division 1 Team State Meet at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23 and 24.
Top-ranked Eau Claire Memorial will also come into the Chippewa Falls Sectional with 24 points from its Subsectional Meet this week, and looks to be SPASH’s toughest competition for the berth at Team State, after the teams split a pair of meetings during the regular season.
“At (No.) 1 and 2 singles we’re probably favored, and the other five spots are probably a toss-up,” said Baier of Memorial. “We can compete in every spot, and hopefully we’ll get all seven through to the finals, that’ll be key No. 1.
“And if we do get all seven to the finals, we’ll probably be against Eau Claire Memorial in all of them, so we’re going to have to obviously win four of them,” he said. “If we don’t get everybody through, then we’ll probably have to win five of the seven, so it’s a huge challenge.
“They’re a very good team, they’ve been ranked No.1 in the state pretty much all year, so we’re probably the underdog,” he said. “But we know we can compete with them, we’ve beaten them in one dual meet and lost to them in one; so we’re right there.”
SPASH will be looking to make its fifth trip to Team State in program history, after it made four consecutive trips from 2001 through 2004, while Baier said that so far this season has been incredible.
“They come to practice every day ready to go,” said Baier. “They have a lot of fun, but when it comes down to business, they play really relaxed and are focused while they’re playing.
“They’re just great kids, great attitude,” he said. “It’s been a great ride.”