Van Emburgh makes history for MHS

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Sophomore Jake Van Emburgh became the first-ever player from Middleton to win a state tennis title on Saturday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Middleton’s boys tennis program has a long and storied tradition of excellence.

The Cardinals send multiple players to the individual state tournament most years. Middleton has been to the state team tournament nine times since 2000.

But one thing the Cardinals have never produced was an individual state champion.

Until Saturday, that is.

Cardinals sophomore Jake Van Emburgh made history by rolling past Brookfield East’s David Horneffer, 7-5, 6-1, to claim the WIAA Division 1 state champion.

Van Emburgh became the first player in school history to win a state title. And with his family set to move to Florida in July, it was a memorable ending for Van Emburgh.

“I’m glad I could end like that,” Van Emburgh said. “It’s kind of bittersweet, but it’s something I definitely wanted to accomplish.”

Van Emburgh accomplished it with surprising ease.

Van Emburgh, the No 2 seed in the tournament, didn’t lose a set in his five matches. In fact, he lost a grand total of just 14 games in his 10 sets.

Van Emburgh also gained a measure of revenge by besting Horneffer — the tournament’s top seed ­— in the finals. One year ago, Horneffer topped Van Emburgh in the state semifinals.

“Overall, I played well,” Van Emburgh said. “I didn’t serve great, but I felt good about it and felt good about the whole season.”

The state tournament was also a memorable experience for a few other Cardinals.

Senior Geri Uj reached the quarterfinals before losing to Van Emburgh. And the doubles tandem of Dan Jin and Cody Markel qualified for state, although they lost their first round match.

But the story of the weekend was Van Emburgh, who capped his season in style.

Van Emburgh wasn’t even planning to play high school tennis a few months ago. Instead, he was going to compete in a number of United States Tennis Association junior tournaments this spring to improve his national ranking.

But when Van Emburgh met that goal by April, he joined the Cardinals.

According to WIAA rules, Van Emburgh had to serve a four-game suspension because he didn’t report to the team on the first day of the season. But Van Emburgh then made the most of his limited time.

He carried a 9-0 record into the state tournament, then rolled through the field.

After a first round bye, Van Emburgh toppled Calvin Schneider of Oregon, 6-2, 6-2, on Thursday. In the round of 16 on Friday, Van Emburgh cruised past Hudson’s Mark Johnson, 6-0, 6-0.

“I knew he was a better player than my match from Thursday,” Van Emburgh said of Johnson. “And playing against better kids makes me play better.”

Van Emburgh met Uj in the quarterfinals Friday.

Uj, the No. 7 seed in the tournament, had an impressive run to the quarterfinals. Uj opened with a first round bye, notched a 6-0, 6-2 win over Racine Horlick’s Andre Antreassian, and toppled Marquette’s Ethan Budiono, 6-3, 6-2.

And while it was a little strange for both Middleton players to collide in the state quarters, Van Emburgh eventually posted a 6-1, 6-2 win.

“After David (Horneffer), Geri (Uj) was the toughest person I played, by far,” Van Emburgh said. “Playing him was really tiring.”

Van Emburgh cruised past Brookfield East’s Robert Krill, 6-1, 6-2, in the semifinals Saturday morning.

Then Van Emburgh got the best of Horneffer.

Van Emburgh got a key break in the first set to take a 5-3 lead. Horneffer fought back to tie the set, 5-5.

Van Emburgh held serve to go ahead, 6-5. Then on set point, Van Emburgh fired a forehand down the right baseline that Horneffer couldn’t catch up to.

The second set was tied, 1-1. Then Van Emburgh ripped off five straight games and became the first-ever Middleton player to capture gold.

“I made sure I was ready,” Van Emburgh said. “I was practicing a lot and tried to keep everything tight.”

Van Emburgh will now take his talents to Florida.

Van Emburgh was always planning to attend the IMG Academy — a private training institution for tennis players of all ages — in Bradenton, Fla., next year.

Then recently, Greg Van Emburgh — Jake’s father and the head men’s tennis coach at the University of Wisconsin — was also hired as a coach at IMG.

Now, the entire Van Emburgh family will head south next month.

But before exiting, Jake Van Emburgh left quite a mark.

“I really enjoyed playing here,” Jake Van Emburgh said. “The team environment is something you don’t get when it’s just you. So this was a lot of fun.”

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