Reaching the state tournament should be the pinnacle of a player’s season. But for Fond du Lac High School tennis player Nicole Feltz, her freshman season ended in painful fashion, literally and figuratively.
Feltz had to retire from her first-round match at last year’s state tournament, resulting in the only loss of her season. She had pulled a muscle attached to her shoulder blade weeks before the tournament, and it had finally become too painful to play with the injury.
“It was really frustrating, but I knew at that point I needed to stop,” she said, “because if I didn’t (stop), I didn’t know if I’d be able to play this year.”
She’s been playing healthy this year and despite moving to the No. 1 singles flight, the sophomore has continued her success. Feltz has a 31-1 record, won a conference title, a sectional title and is seeded at the state tournament, which begins play Thursday afternoon at UW-Madison’s Nielsen Tennis Stadium.
If seeds hold form, she would have the unenviable task of playing Homestead’s undefeated Mardee Merar in the round of 16. Right now she’s focusing only on her first test — Lindsey Gosse of Sheboygan North.
The only player to beat Feltz is Kenosha Tremper’s Megan Humphreys, who is seeded fifth at state, and on the other side of the bracket.
“I just want to win my first round match,” she said of her approach to this year’s tournament. “And if I end up playing her, I’ll just play my best and see if I can win.”
Her approach to the tournament shows some patience, and it is an improved patience on the court that coach Heather Schuetz said has helped her continue wracking up wins.
“She’s hitting the ball harder, but her maturity from last year to this year is the biggest difference,” Schuetz said of Feltz’s improvements. “She’s developed a lot of patience.”
She’s also developed a lot of confidence facing the improved competition that comes at No. 1 singles.
It was a match almost two months ago that she credits for giving her the belief that she belonged with the best players in the state.
“In our second invite, I faced Emmy Kaftan from West Bend West, who had gone to state before, and I went three sets against her and won,” Feltz said. “That’s when I felt like I could do damage at No. 1.
“There have been a few matches where I knew the girls would be tough and I ended up beating all of them in three sets, so I knew if I could keep my head I could do well.”