It has been six years since the Neenah Rockets competed in the WIAA state team tennis tournament.
Those six years felt more like 60 to Neenah’s Tom Berven, one of the state’s most successful prep tennis coaches.
The Rockets are back where Berven believes they belong after securing a spot in the state team tournament by winning Thursday’s WIAA Division 1 sectional at Fox Cities Racquet Club.
“It’s been six years and it seems like an eternity,” said Berven with a chuckle. “I think a state tournament is the greatest event a high school athlete can play in. I’m so glad this group is going to get the opportunity.”
Neenah breezed to the team title — based on subsectional and sectional points — with 51 points, well ahead of runner-up Fond du Lac (25).
In recent years, the Rockets’ postseason path to the state team tournament had been blocked by Homestead, which kept winning Neenah’s sectional and ending the Rockets’ season.
The WIAA, however, switched Homestead to a sectional in the Milwaukee area this season. And a deep, highly skilled Rockets team took advantage.
“This is a huge deal,” said Neenah senior doubles player John Price. “Our coach (Berven) has been really striving for this and we’re all just exhilarated.”
Price was one of five Neenah players who also qualified for the WIAA state individual tennis meet to be held May 30-June 1 at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison. The state team tournament will take place June 7-8 at the same venue.
Neenah advanced two doubles teams and singles player Ryan Risgaard to the state individual tournament. Neenah’s top doubles team of Andrew Juneau and Matt Brooks won the championship match of Flight 1 to advance to Madison, while Price and Tylor Rosera qualified by capturing the title match of Flight 2.
Juneau and Brooks downed Manitowoc’s duo of Jake Rohrer and Nick Schroeder 6-4, 6-3. Both Juneau and Brooks played in the 2012 state individual meet, but with different doubles partners.
“Manitowoc has a power No. 1 doubles team. Those guys are great,” said Juneau. “I have to admit, they hit harder than us. It feels great that we’re sectional champs.”
Price and Rosera prevailed in the most grueling match of the day — a three-set marathon over Manitowoc’s tandem of Mike Olson and David Wronkowski. After dropping the opening set 4-6, Price and Rosera fought back to take the draining match with 6-3, 7-5 victories.
“It was a long, long match,” said Price. “Both teams were playing extremely well. We basically kept trading games back and forth. The third set was the most exhausting. I’m just glad it’s over.”
Risgaard and Kimberly’s Mitchell Sauder qualified for the state individual meet by finishing third and fourth, respectively, in Flight 1 singles play. The top four finishers in Flight 1 and top finisher in Flight 2 in both singles and doubles play advanced to the state individual meet.
In the third-place match of Flight 1, Risgaard downed Sauder 6-3, 6-3.
“It was just awesome to be out here with all these great hitters,” said Risgaard. “It’s been an incredible season for us and our whole team played crazy-good today. It’s going to be fun competing in both tournaments and learning from them.”
Several other players contributed to Neenah’s team title. In singles play, the Rockets’ Michael Mauthe was the Flight 3 champion, while Aaron Kubiak won Flight 4. Neenah’s Will Weyenberg was the runner-up in Flight 2.
In doubles play, Neenah’s duo of Alec Becker and Alan Desai won Flight 3.
“It was really fun to see that sea of red in the last round,” said Berven. “To have all your young men still playing for a championship, that was tremendous.”
NEENAH 51, FOND DU LAC 25, DE PERE 24, MANITOWOC 23, WEST DE PERE 22, APPLETON EAST 16, KIMBERLY 14, APPLETON NORTH 13, SHEBOYGAN NORTH 11, OSHKOSH WEST 10, APPLETON WEST 4, KAUKAUNA 2, OSHKOSH NORTH 2, SHEBOYGAN SOUTH 0, MENASHA 0
Singles players advancing to state
Flight 1: Nick Dykema WDP, Kyle Dunn F, Ryan Risgaard N, Mitchell Sauder KIM.
Flight 2: Jack Dykema WDP.
Doubles players advancing to state
Flight 1: Matt Brooks/Andrew Juneau N, Jake Rohrer/Nick Schroeder MAN, Stuart Nett/Matt Riley F, Morgan Ross/Travis Waibel SN.
Flight 2: John Price/Tylor Rosera N.
Championship and third-place matches
Flight 1: Championship: Nick Dykema WDP beat Kyle Dunn F 4-6, 7-5 (4-0, injury default by Dunn). Third: Ryan Risgaard N beat Mitchell Sauder KIM 6-3, 6-3.
Flight 2: Championship: Jack Dykema WDP beat Will Weyenberg N 6-1, 6-0. Third: Kenan Selah F beat David Brooker AN 6-2, 6-0.
Flight 3: Championship: Michael Mauthe N beat Cory Darm WDP 6-2, 6-0. Third: Benji Backer AN beat Ethan Pieper F 2-6, 6-0, 6-2.
Flight 4: Championship: Aaron Kubiak N beat Matt Schneider F 6-1, 6-0. Third: Nathan Melichar DP beat Travis Hammerstad AE 6-4, 6-1.
Flight 1: Matt Brooks/Andrew Juneau N beat Jake Rohrer/Nick Schroeder MAN 6-4, 6-3. Third: Morgan Ross/Travis Waibel SN beat Stuart Nett/Mat Riley F 6-4, 6-1.
Flight 2: John Price/Tylor Rosera N beat Mike Olson/David Wronkowski MAN 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Third: Thomas Parins/Bennett Herson/Rosser DP beat Grant Gorges/Aaron Mader KIM 6-3, 7-5.
Flight 3: Alec Becker/Alan Desai N beat Alex Hibbard/Nagesh Kenneganti DP 7-5, 6-0. Third: Jonah Mrozinski/Parker Wood MAN beat Leland Raymond/Nick Tyczkowski KIM 6-1, 6-4.
— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or email@example.com; On Twitter @twfroberg