When the Roncalli girls tennis team’s doubles pair of senior Abby Halla and freshman Tallie Piaskowski take to the court on Friday at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, it will be the first step in the duo’s attempt at making school history.
While the WIAA Girls State Individual Tennis Tournament begins today and runs through Saturday, the No. 1-seeded Division 2 tandem earned a first-round bye after completing their regular season 28-0.
“It’s been a phenomenal season and I think whatever happens will be the icing on the cake,” Roncalli coach Mike Halla said. “I know (Abby and Tallie) have their eyes set on standing atop the podium when the medals are being handed out, but 28 wins in my mind is certainly phenomenal.”
As the only Division 2 pair to go the regular season undefeated, and only one of two doubles teams in Wisconsin to accomplish the feat, Piaskowski and Halla would become the first doubles team in program history to go undefeated if they made it to the top of the medal stand on Saturday.
“Their seed might be symbolic of the great season they’ve had so far, but they will end up playing some great teams and if they are fortunate enough to advance you still have to beat the best players,” Mike Halla said. “There is certainly no easy pass to Saturday or the finals. They will have to work their tails off.”
Abby Halla, who returns after being a runner up at State last season with since-graduated Jane Salutz, and Piaskowski will play on Friday the winner of today’s matchup between Monroe juniors Ellie Grossen and Chandra McGuire (19-6) and Altoona junior Rachel Rosemore and freshman Isabel McDaniel. As they wait, they will be cheering on senior teammates Catherine Taddy and Sophie Pitz (19-3) as they take on University School of Milwaukee sophomores Julia Veitinger and Meredith Short (21-5) tonight.
Taddy is returning to State after making it last season with the since-graduated Kaylee Suettinger while this is Pitz’s first trip to State. Commenting on it being Pitz’s first time at State, as well as Piaskowski’s, coach Halla didn’t seem concerned with how they would perform under pressure.
“With playing basketball (for Roncalli), Sophie is used to competing under pressure and in front of loud crowds. I think that (Taddy and Pitz) are really going to be able to tune out the crowd and get to playing tennis,” coach Halla said. “Tallie has been on summer teams that have played at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium so I don’t think it will be a completely new experience for her. The atmosphere at sectionals was pretty loud and fans were really into it so I don’t think there will be a dramatic change for her to get used to. If someone had not played in that setting it could be different but Tallie has played a lot of tennis. She will be fine.”
In singles, Roncalli will be represented by seniors Elizabeth Kuenzi and Emily Halvorsen, both of which have been to State every year since they were freshman. Kuenzi (24-4), who received a No. 5-8 seed, will take on Brookfield Academy sophomore Michelle Sikes (12-2) tonight while Halvorsen (22-6) will face off with Aquinas junior Anna Smith (16-13).
“You still have to beat the best players to medal, and I spoke with (Kuenzi) about her draw and she is happy with it and so am I. She has a great opportunity to have a lot of success in the tournament,” coach Halla said. “We try and gear our whole season towards tournament time and I think the goal for all the girls is to play on Saturday. We talk quite a bit about playing on Saturday and playing for medals. That will be the focus for all the girls.”
Also in Division 2, Two Rivers will be represented by Lindsay Fish and Taylor Czekala (11-5) as the tandem is set to take on Baldwin-Woodville seniors Haylie Noha and Katie Thompson (9-0). Fish and Czekala were special qualifiers as a doubles pair last season and fell to the eventual State champions. This will be Czekala’s fourth trip to State.
“They should be good to go. Lindsay seems to be peaking again now and playing some of her best tennis. Hopefully that carries with her through the tournament,” Two Rivers coach Amanda Pribek said. “I’ve been telling them to keep playing their game. Attack the nets, be aggressive and don’t go away from what they’ve done all year.”
In Division 1, Manitowoc County will be represented by a pair of Manitowoc Lincoln singles players as senior Kali Hackmann and freshman Bailey Budnik qualified for the Ships. Hackmann (18-4) will face Brookfield Central sophomore Hannah Sekaran (16-14) this afternoon while Budnik (30-1) takes on Chippewa Falls senior Sarah Wallace (20-7).
“They are both really competitive. They have fun but they are going (to State) to compete and play hard,” Lincoln coach Jacques Verbauwhede said. “It has been great having both of them on the team and seeing them both get to State.”
Verbauwhede said he hasn’t been telling Hackmann much to get prepared for State as she went as a freshman and sophomore before taking her junior year off to recover from an injury. He said he plans on having a small discussion with Budnik, but said he thinks that after suffering only one loss — to last year’s Division 2 State champion — she will fare well in Madison.
“Bailey is fairly experienced as far as playing tournaments. She plays a lot in the summer. She has experience playing in the Nielsen Tennis Stadium so that will be a nice edge for her to have,” Verbauwhede said. “I’ll talk to her about the crowd and the cheering, because lot more people will be there watching than our regular matches and not everyone is cheering for you. Everyone has to be mentally ready for that.”