MADISON — After her big guns came up clutch earlier in the day, Brookfield East boys tennis coach Linda Lied stuck to her guns with a state championship on the line.
At the end of the day, the result was a second consecutive title for the Spartans, who won the WIAA Division 1 Boys State Team Tournament in dominant fashion with a 7-0 sweep of Neenah Saturday at Nielsen Tennis Stadium.
“It is a great feeling,” Lied said. “It’s a great group of guys and I’ve said that all year. Nine of the 12 kids are seniors. They really played as a team. They push each other as a team. They were really a great group to work with.”
East, the top seed in the eightteam field, had to first survive a staunch test from fourth-seeded Marquette in the semifinals. Following losses at three and four singles as well as three doubles, the Spartans found themselves in a 3-0 hole.
“The Marquette match, they realigned themselves after the conference tournament to this tournament team and we’re not oblivious to it — they were lining up to come after where we were a little bit more susceptible,” Lied said. “And we knew that and we knew we could come out of the gate down 3-0.”
That turned out to be the case. But East had four individual state qualifiers left to finish.
“We had a little team huddle and said if we’re ever going to do it, we’ve got to do it now and I’m so proud of them for doing that,” Lied said. “They came out to play.”
The Spartans evened up the dual at 3-3 with straight-set victories from seniors Michael Francken and Owen Kendler at two doubles, seniors Henry Irwin and Reed Scullen at one doubles, and junior Sam Klein at three singles.
“Sam … when he got that first set I think you could feel the air in the balloon start to leak out for Marquette,” Lied said.
That left it up to sophomore Oscar Corwin at one singles to be the deciding factor. The drama was scarce as Corwin took care of Marquette junior Graham Kunick 6-2, 6-0, sending East to the finals.
“We lost those first three but we never gave up and just had to stay positive,” Corwin said. “The rest of us just fought through it and got the win.”
Then Lied had a decision to make.
The other D1 semifinal also went down to the wire, with No. 3 Neenah upsetting No. 2 Middleton, 4-3. The Spartans had seen both teams earlier in the season, with Lied loading up her singles lineup against Neenah and her doubles against Middleton based on matchups.
Even still, Lied chose to stick with the lineup that got them to the championship round.
“At the end of the day I made a decision to go with a doubles lineup,” Lied said. “I wouldn’t say I had full support from anybody. The whole state kind of thought I was crazy. But I really wanted to believe in my top players.”
That belief was wholeheartedly rewarded.
Klein was the first one off following a 6-0, 6-0 win. East’s lead grew to 3-0 thanks to a 6-0, 6-2 decision for Francken and Kendler, followed by a 6-1, 6-3 victory by the No. 3 doubles pairing of senior Ben Plichta and sophomore Grant Meyers.
Locked in a rematch of the thirdplace match from a week ago were Irwin and Scullen against Neenah seniors Nolan Kubiak and Khaled Saleh.
“They’re really good, obviously,” Irwin said. “At individual we were the one (seed) and they were the two, so we have a lot of respect for them. I think I had that mindset knowing our team is doing so well, we were just having a lot of fun out there knowing it was our last match.”
Scullen admitted that may have been why they fell behind in both sets. But they would rally from down 5-4 in the first to go up 1-0 with a 7-5 victory, then erased a 3-0 deficit to win the second 6-4, officially clinching the Spartans’ third state title in program history.
“It feels great,” Scullen said. “It’s pretty cool doing it here. We did it in Eau Claire last year but winning it here and doing it the way we did was pretty awesome.”
Knowing there was some risk involved in playing together rather than splitting up, Irwin and Scullen were grateful for the chance to play together one last time.
“It was so much fun to be able to do it playing together,” Irwin said. “We thought it might be hard for the team to pull it out with us doing that, but our team was just so amazing throughout.”
Irwin particularly displayed razorsharp precision with his deep lob shot, catching an aggressive Kubiak and Saleh off guard several times.
“He was in his bag,” Scullen remarked.
East’s victory parade wasn’t over just yet. Senior Arthur Dickson claimed his competitive No. 3 singles bout 6-4, 7-5, while at four singles, senior Aaysh Singh earned a 6-4, 6-2 win. Once again, Corwin was the last to take the court for the Spartans — albeit with a little less pressure this time.
“But I still wanted to get the victory and complete the sweep, so it felt really nice to just be the top player in the state and get it done for the team,” Corwin said.
East also knocked off eighth-seeded Notre Dame 7-0 in Friday’s quarterfinal round, while Menomonee Falls, seeded seventh and competing at team state for the first time in program history, was swept by Middleton.
“Talent-wise we knew we were better,” Lied said. “It’s the first round but there’s always a lot of nerves to get out.”
Corwin was happy to be able to send out East’s nine seniors on top for the second straight year.
“It feels great, but we’re going to miss them a lot,” Corwin said. “But it’s awesome to go back-to-back and send them off with a victory.”
Scullen said he, Irwin, Kendler, Francken, Klein and Corwin had been playing together since they were 4 years old. Joining forces once again on the big stage, they’ll go down as the most successful team in team history.
“We were dreaming of being on the same high school team, so it’s been a great two years with everyone,” Scullen said.