Boys tennis team falls in state finals

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Gregg Hammill/Special to the Times-Tribune
Geri Uj and Middleton's boys tennis team reached the state championship last Saturday before falling to Milwaukee Marquette./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

When perennial power Milwaukee Marquette advanced through the draw, Middleton’s boys tennis team knew it had its work cut out if it was to claim its first state team title.

The Hilltoppers boasted far and away the state’s top doubles lineup along with a deep and talented roster.

In the end, the matchup proved too much to overcome as the Cardinals were swept in the doubles matches and went on to drop a 5-2 decision to the Hilltoppers in the WIAA Division 1 championship match at Nielsen Tennis Stadium Saturday.

“When we went through our semifinal we were hoping for Brookfield East because we matched up a little better with them,” said Middleton junior Brian Bellissimo. “We saw Marquette and we were going to give all we could, but they just played better than we did today. Their doubles are just crazy deep from every position.”

The doubles matches were all played first and Middleton found itself in a quick 3-0 hole after claiming just eight games in the three matches.

“We knew we had a chance, but Marquette always has amazing doubles and they’re just so deep,” Middleton junior Cody Markel said. “We were hoping we could get a doubles match and we knew we had a chance at all of our singles matches too.”

Bellissimo went on court next and dropped a 6-1, 6-2 decision to Nick Yang at No. 4 singles to clinch the match for Marquette.

“(Yang) played a great match,” Bellissimo said. “I thought I put it all out there, but at the end of the day, he just hit better shots and was more consistent.”

Middleton’s No. 1 and 2 singles players — Jake Van Emburgh and Geri Uj — came through with victories. Van Emburgh won after his opponent, John Massart, retired after dropping the first set 6-0 due to an ankle injury. Uj, playing with a lower back injury, gutted out a 6-2, 0-6 (10-8 tiebreaker) victory over Alex Rokosz.

“I won the first set,” said Uj, a foreign exchange student from Hungary. “It wasn’t that bad because I took a lot of pain killers. For the second set it was unbearable, so I kind of just threw it and tried to focus on the match tiebreak and try to win it.”

Van Emburgh, who claimed the state individual singles title the previous weekend, joined the Cardinals late in the season after competing in several United States Tennis Association (USTA) junior tournaments in the spring.

“It was a good experience,” Van Emburgh said of competing for the Cardinals. “I was just glad that I was able to play and they reinstated me so that I could help them out. I love being on the aspect of the team. In USTA, you’re by yourself, there’s no team part of it, so it’s nice being on a team.”

Van Emburgh’s addition also gave the Cardinals a huge lift.

“We were a solid team and we knew we were top five in the state without him,” Bellissimo said. “But once we got Jake, we really thought we would be contenders, and in the end, we were. We got to the finals.”

Van Emburgh, who is planning to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., next year, did not drop a set in either the team or individual state tournaments.

“It was amazing,” Markel said. “He just dominates most kids that he plays. It was just nice to have a kid that is pretty much an auto win in every match.”

The Cardinals’ Dan Jin and Markel got off to a solid start at No. 2 doubles, but fell behind a break of serve and eventually lost the first set, 6-3. Marquette’s David Sinense and Caleb Schifano claimed the second set, 6-2, to take the match.

“We started off really, really well,” Jin said. “We were making all of our shots and getting up to the net being able to put away the shots. Then they started to play well and we started to play a little worse missing our returns and missing easy shots that we usually make and so they carried that momentum through the set. The second set we missed easy returns and that was lethal to us.”

Added Markel: “We knew we had to come out fast and I thought we did, but we just couldn’t get the break when we needed the break. Obviously, they’re a good team, but I thought we put up a pretty good effort.”

At No. 1 doubles, Middleton’s Mason Pyle and Rafael Sanga dropped a 6-1, 6-1 decision to Kyran Young and Nick Kallman, the state individual doubles champions. At No. 3, the Cardinals’ Tyler Ballweg and Harish Veeramani lost 6-1, 6-0 to Ben Sinense and Noah Guillermo.

At No. 3 singles, Middleton’s Xavier Sanga dropped a 6-1, 6-0 decision to Ethan Budiono.

In doubles, Marquette (26-2 overall) finished 9-0 and didn’t lose a set in its three state team tournament matches, which included a 5-2 victory over defending champion Brookfield East in the semifinals. The state title was Marquette’s 10th team title overall and eighth in the last nine years.

The Cardinals (16-11) were Big Eight Conference champions and qualified for their second consecutive state team tournament en route to making it to the state team championship.

“We’ve got to be proud of what we did at the end of the day,” Bellissimo said. “It would have been nice to come away with a championship, but I’m proud of how our team played all season. We always play hard and practice hard and give it our best.”

Added Markel: “I’m happy with the season even with the ending loss. I mean second in the state is not something to be sad about. I’m proud of how we fought and how we played. Obviously, our goal was a state championship, but we put out our best effort.”

The Cardinals have now finished as state runner-ups on four occasions including 2000, 2007, and 2009.

Middleton advanced to the championship match with a 6-1 semifinal victory over Kettle Moraine. The Cardinals cruised in all four singles matches. Van Emburgh defeated Chayce Roecker 6-2, 6-0 at No. 1; Uj topped Brett Belanger 6-1, 6-0 at No. 2; Sanga blanked Michael Woyahn 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3; and Bellissimo dropped Joe Neimon 6-0, 6-0 at No. 4.

In doubles, Jin and Markel beat Nic Repp and Alex Meeth 6-0, 6-2 at No. 2 and Ballweg and Veeramani toppled Alex Gerencir and Eric Miller 6-4, 6-3 at No. 3.

In the quarterfinals, Middleton scored a 6-1 victory over Madison West. Middleton swept all four singles matches. Van Emburgh cruised past Alex Poland 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1; Uj defeated Patrick Sheehan-Klenk 6-0, 6-1 at No. 2; Sanga blanked Bogeun Choi 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3; and Bellissimo outlasted Quin Gallagher 6-1, 6-7 (12-10).

In doubles, Jin and Markel topped Matt Tillquist and Michael Wolter, 6-4, 6-0, at No. 2 and Ballweg and Veeramani edged Cameron Carlson and Luca Willauer 6-4, 7-6 (6) at No. 3.


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