Connell, Cardinals shine at state tennis

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s Ian Connell notched a huge win at No. 2 singles to propel the Cardinals past Hartland Arrowhead at the state team tennis tournament on June 7./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

MADISON — Ian Connell walked about 100 feet, or so, through the bowels of Nielsen Tennis Stadium late last Friday night.

When Connell got to the end of the hallway, his entire Middleton tennis team was waiting to shower the Cardinals’ freshman with love.

Hugs. High fives. Yelling. Screaming.

The group produced all of the above.

“That was just amazing,” Connell said. “Best thing I ever felt.”

And certainly deserved.

Connell took part in arguably the most grueling, exhausting, intense match seen at the WIAA Division 1 boys state team tennis tournament in several years. And when it ended after nearly three hours, Connell’s 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (8) win over Arrowhead junior Cole Contardi lifted the Cardinals past the Warhwaks, 4-3, in a state quarterfinal match.

Middleton dropped an exciting 4-3 decision to eventual state champion Milwaukee Marquette in the state semifinals last Saturday. But the Cardinals’ win over Arrowhead — and in particular, Connell’s victory in front of roughly 150 spectators — will be talked about for years to come.

“Awesome. Just awesome,” Middleton coach Tony Mirasola said. “I’ve played a lot of tennis, I’ve coached a lot of tennis. I don't think I’ve ever been a part of anything like that before.”

Added Connell: “That was the most tired I’ve ever been. I just dug deep and tried my best.”

Middleton trailed Arrowhead, 3-1, after matches in the lower flights were completed. That meant the Cardinals had to win the final three matches of the night to advance.

Middleton seniors Sam Dettman and Brandon Bodak took care of their business, defeating Arrowhead’s Sam Kredell and Jared Pietilla, 6-1, 6-4, at No. 1 doubles.

At No. 2 doubles, Cardinals senior Alton Yan and sophomore Gene Kim posted an impressive 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-3 win over Warhawks’ sophomore Quin Dubofsky and freshman Alex Deubel.

“I knew going in that Arrowhead was a super deep team,” Mirasola said. “And I knew the way the format works, you play those lower flights first, so there was the potential to go down early. But we did a great job fighting back, and that’s a credit to those guys. I think they played better because of it.”

Especially Connell.

Neither Contardi or Connell qualified for the individual state meet the previous weekend. Contardi carried a 23-11 record into team state (.676), while Connell was 20-9 (.690).

And after the two baseliners split the first two sets, it was evident there wasn’t much separation between the two.

Contardi seemingly had Connell on the ropes early in the third set, though. Contardi —who won the final three games of the second set — also won the first two games of the third set and jumped to a 2-0 lead.

“I was really, really tired,” Connell said. “I just had to take it one step at a time, one point at a time.”

He did. Connell quickly evened the set, 2-2, before another Contardi break helped him surge to a 4-2 edge.

After both players held serve giving Contardi a 5-3 lead, Connell fell behind 0-30 on his own serve and was two points from being eliminated.

“It felt like he was hanging on for dear life,” Mirasola said. “But he did. Every single time. He was fighting the fight and was able to flip the switch at the perfect time.”

This was one of those times.

Connell rattled off seven straight points — the first four allowing him to hold serve and pull within 5-4, and the next three leading to a service break that evened the match, 5-5.

Contardi regained momentum by breaking Connell and taking a 6-5 lead. But Connell responded by breaking right back and sending the match to a tiebreaker.

There, Connell jumped to a 6-3 lead, giving him three match points. But Contardi fought off all three points and won five of six points overall to take an 8-7 lead and earn a match point of his own at 8-7.

Connell responded, though, by winning the next two points on his own serve to take a 9-8 lead. Then, on Connell’s fourth match point of the night, Contardi double faulted. And 4 hours, 38 minutes after the Cardinals and Warhawks began their match, Middleton rejoiced.

“It was relieving, but I also felt bad for him,” Connell said. “You never want it to end on a double fault. But I would say that was one of my best matches. I played pretty well.”

Mirasola agreed.

“To have the match go that way and have it come down to a freshman in the third set. Unbelievable,” he said. “He was never phased the whole match. He’s a freshman, but he’s the smartest player on our team and he is unbelievably calm. He loves this group environment, he feeds off of it and that was his best match of the year. Absolutely.

“Coming into that third set, I didn’t think (Connell) had his legs left. He’s a freshman, he’s small, but he just fought and he just played unbelievable tennis. I have no idea how he did it.”

One way was by wearing Contardi out.

Late in what was a 75-minute third set, Contardi cramped up and a trainer worked on him for several minutes. Contardi continued, but wasn’t as mobile as earlier in the match.

“I tried to make there be longer rallies,” Connell said. “I think it worked.”

While Connell’s win was the show-stopper, Middleton had several other stellar performances.

Dettman and Bodak cruised in their first set at No. 1 doubles. Arrowhead went ahead, 4-1, in the second set before Middleton’s dynamic duo rolled off five straight games to win the match.

“We started out really strong,” Bodak said. “They just started hitting more shots in that second set, but then our energy changed.”

Added Dettman: “I don’t think they started out their best, but they really brought it in the second set. So we had to step it back up. We didn’t want to go to a third set.”

At No. 2 doubles, Yan and Kim — who were unseeded at individual state — upended a Warhawks duo that was the No. 15 seed the previous weekend.

Middleton also got a victory at No. 1 singles where senior Ryan Gold won after Arrowhead’s Ryan Ebel defaulted.

“I’d say No. 2 doubles and No. 2 singles were probably coin flip matches,” Mirasola said. “Those were huge for us.”

Just 10 1/2 hours later, Middleton was back challenging top-seeded Marquette.

Gold posted a 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over Marquette’s Richard Balistreri at No. 1 singles. And Connell stayed hot with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Josh Guillermo at No. 2 singles.

Dettman and Bodak also posted an extremely impressive 6-4, 4-6, (8) win over Marquette’s Jake Stockhausen and Teddy Brodzinski — a duo that finished second at individual state.

“We haven’t had a chance to beat Marquette,” Dettman said before facing the Hilltoppers’ duo. “They’re up there with the better teams in the state, so I think it would be huge.”

Marquette won the other four flights, though, the defeated Brookfield East for the state title later in the day.

While the Cardinals fell short of a state team title, their performance on Friday — and the effort of Connell — will become part of state tennis lore.

“We’re just a great group of guys,” Connell said. “We’re a team … and we just came out here and did our best.”

And in the process, made a lifelong memory.


June 12

WIAA Division 1 quarterfinal


No. 1 – Ryan Gold, 9 (MID) def. Noah Ebel, 12 (ARR) Default.

No. 2 – Ian Connell, 9 (MID) def. Cole Contardi, 11 (ARR) 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(8).

No. 3 – Nick Tiahnybik, 10 (ARR) def. Jacob Mandelbrot, 9 (MID) 6-1,6-1.

No. 4 – Sam Budde, 11 (ARR) def. Akshay Kelshiker, 11 (MID) 7-6(2), 6-0.



No. 1 – Sam Dettman, 12/Brandon Bodak, 12 (MID) def. Sam Kredell, 10/Jared Pietilla, 12 (ARR) 6-1, 6-4.

No. 2 –Alton Yan, 12/Gene Kim, 10 (MID) def. Quin Dubofsky, 10/Alex Deubel, 9 (ARR) 7-6(2), 1-6, 6-3.

No. 3 –Matt Brandel, 12/Cole Kyle, 12 (ARR) def. Jordan Cheng, 12/Andres Clark, 10 (MID) 1- 6, 6-3, 6-2


June 13

WIAA Division 1 semifinal


No. 1 – Ryan Gold, 12 (MID) def. Richard Balistreri, 11 (MU) 7-6(3), 6-4.

No. 2 – Ian Connell, 9 (MID) def. Josh Guillermo, 11 (MU) 6-1, 6-1.

No. 3 – Rehan Dhala, 11 (MU) def. Jacob Mandelbrot, 9 (MID) 6-2, 6-2.

No. 4 – Mike Mitchell, 11 (MU) def. Akshay Kelshiker, 11 (MID) 6-0, 6-0.



No. 1 – Sam Dettman, 12/Brandon Bodak, 12 (MID) def. Jake Stockhausen, 12/Teddy Brodzinski, 12 6-4, 4-6, (8).

No. 2 – Mike Richardson, 11/Noah White, 10 (MU) def. Alton Yan, 12/Gene Kim, 10 (MID) 6-3, 6-3.

No. 3 – Logan Homberg, 11/Evan Roge, 12 (MU) def. Jordan Cheng, 12/Anders Clark, 10 (MID) 6-0, 7-6(6).



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