Tennis Cardinals win Big 8

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MTT News Desk's picture
Rob Reischel
Brian Bellissimo and Middleton’s boys tennis team won the Big Eight Conference meet last Thursday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Ben Luskin plopped on a chair in the lower level of Nielsen Tennis Stadium last Thursday afternoon.

Middleton’s junior standout grabbed a bag of ice, applied it to his painful right elbow, and took a moment to enjoy the temporary relief.

“The icing numbs it,” Luskin said. “It really helps.”

Luskin needed every last cube on an afternoon where his mental toughness and perseverance were impressive.

Despite painful tendinitis in his elbow, Luskin rallied and reached the finals of the Big Eight Conference tournament at No. 1 singles. And while Luskin lost in the title match to Verona’s Andrew Argall, his path there was inspirational.

Luskin’s performance — and a solid showing from the rest of the Cardinals — helped Middleton win the league title for the fourth time in five years. Middleton finished with 46 points, while Madison West (41) and Verona (36) were second and third, respectively.

“I thought everybody really stepped up,” Luskin said. “It was a good day for the team.”

And a good day for Luskin.

Luskin rolled to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Sun Prairie’s Keegan Moldenhauer in the first round. But Luskin’s elbow worsened and it appeared his day would abruptly end.

In the semifinals, Madison La Follette’s Adam Martin led Luskin, 5-1, 40-0 in the third set. Amazingly, though, Luskin fought off those three match points, rallied back to win that game, and eventually captured the decisive set, 7-5.

In all, Luskin fought off seven match points. The odds of that impressive feat are 1/128 — or 0.78%.

“That was awesome,” Middleton coach Deke Bradley said. “I don’t know where he found that strength, but I’m glad he did.”

With Luskin’s elbow ailing, he contemplated sitting out the finals. But Luskin gave it a go and battled Argall, before falling, 6-1, 6-4.

“I’ve had tendinitis before, but not this bad,” Luskin said. “The only thing that will make it better is rest, but there’s no time for that right now.”

While Luskin’s performance was the show-stopper, many of his teammates enjoyed terrific days, as well.

Freshman Brian Bellissimo defeated Verona’s Philip Rudnitzky, 6-3, 6-3, for the title at No. 3 singles. Bellissimo rolled into the finals by losing just four games in two matches.

“Brian’s just so steady,” Bradley said. “He put a lot into his offseason and now he’s reaping the rewards. He’s definitely one of our most solid guys.”

At No. 4 singles, Middleton senior Tyler Markel downed Madison West’s Alfonso Gunaratnam, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, in the finals. Markel lost only five total games in his two matches before the finals.

“That’s great for him,” Bradley said of Markel. “Tyler was pushed to the brink, but he gave another really gutsy performance.”

Middleton also had four second place finishes.

No. 2 singles player Joey Niesen reached the finals, where he lost Verona’s Brian Davenport, 6-3, 6-4.

Middleton’s top doubles team of Evan Stone and Griff Pyle reached the finals. But Madison West’s Timo Bentolila and Will Simonson pulled the upset, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The Cardinals’ No. 2 doubles team of Dan Jin and Cody Markel lost in the championship match to Madison West’s Allen Yen and Jamie McDowell, 6-1, 6-1.

And Middleton’s No. 3 doubles team of Andy Webber and Brett Anderson was upended in the finals by Madison West’s Miles Morgan and Matt Munns, 6-4, 6-4.

“I’m really proud of the guys,” Bradley said. “This is a good league, so this is a really good accomplishment.”


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