This battle is over 15 years old and it will continue to be fought for years to come.
It goes like this:
The WIAA has never really been about the best high school sports teams winning state titles but getting what it calls “regional representation” at its tournaments.
That has led to some unbelievably weak sectionals in various sports as well as some dismayingly packed ones too. This had led to some “try hard” but not really worthy teams making state events while some otherwise excellent and worthy squads sit home, grumble and watch things on their computer screens.
This has more-or-less been the case in boys tennis since about 2005 as state public school power Nicolet has been put in the same sectional with the state private school empire of Milwaukee Marquette.
Marquette has won nine of the last 10 D1 titles by pulling in talented players from all over southeastern Wisconsin (including some from as far away as Delafield and Hustisford). The Hilltoppers have done this by almost always going through Nicolet at sectional to do it.
Nicolet didn’t have any trouble in the early days of the arrangement, beating the Hilltoppers in sectional play and going on to win state titles in 2005 and 2006. But the Knights, who as everyone who knows even a little bit about boys state tennis, don’t need anyone’s pity with an amazing 26 state team titles to their credit, have not won a state title since then, nor have they even been to the state team tourney either in that time.
This has happened even though there has been no discernable drop in the Knights talent-level. It’s just that the Hilltoppers seem to get better and better every year.
And there seems to be no change in that trend forthcoming.
With their reputation pulling in more and more players every year, the Hilltoppers don’t ever rebuild, they just reload. It’s made for some awfully boring state team tournaments in recent years.
I’m not complaining about Marquette’s ability to pull in talent though there are times I want to. They do this in soccer and volleyball too. This kind of thing happens in all sports in Wisconsin. It’s the bargain the WIAA agreed to when it took in the schools from the now defunct private school association WISAA near the turn of the century.
By adding those schools, the state has been able to determine “true” team champions, though in the cases of some private institution champions, the feeling is that those schools’ ability to offer financial aid and the fact that they they can draw from a wider geographic area creates an unfair advantage and casts a shadow over things.
Understandably, resentment builds up in some public school quarters about it. They after all, by and large, rely on the kids who live in their communities and not much more than those kids.
And because of the WIAA assignment decision and Marquette’s relentless success, it has led to a number of boring state team tennis tourneys in recent years. This year’s event will likely be even more boring, as the clear-cut number two team in 2017 is clearly coach Tim Koppa’s Nicolet squad.
Nicolet and Marquette (with a good Bay team thrown in for good measure) will butt heads in a sectional hosted by Marquette on Wednesday (May 24).
The Knights have lost only a small handful of times this season, including twice to Marquette, including a 5-2 decision to the Hilltoppers in the final of Brookfield Central’s powerhouse “Best of the Best” tournament on May 20.
Koppa, whose team earlier last week impressively won the North Shore Conference title, is taking the high ground here. He refuses to publicly complain about the disparity of things.
He loves the state team tourney and would love to get back there. He would be over the moon on Wednesday if his team advanced to it by beating the best team in the state.
Nicolet will bring an impressive array of talent to the task and will likely qualify many singles and doubles’ teams to the state individual tournament, but Koppa is not sure that that is enough.
The line-up of singles’ players Jaden Aranda (24-2), Sunil Sabnis (20-8), Julian Lowe (22-6), and Ben Chester (28-2), along with doubles teams Jake Steinberger and Eli Winter (24-1), Ridley Aranda and Ari Robinson (25-2) and Eytan Robinson and Harry Rossman (26-1) would certainly overwhelm every other sectional in the state but this one.
The Knights are ready for the challenge though, said Koppa.
“It was interesting about the Central tournament,” he said. “The one-two-three-four teams in the state finished in exactly that order and our final with Marquette was the same stuff different day. Neither one of us played our regular line-ups so the score may have been misleading.”
What is also interesting is to Koppa is that his athletes are starting to worry that with all these tournaments crammed into these final weeks, they are missing a lot of school. That is something of a concern to the student/athletes at a school with the academic reputation of Nicolet.
“They do complain to me about it,” said Koppa with a laugh.
And even with the categorical unfairness of his team’s competitive situation hitting him square in the face, Koppa will not bark.
He has had discussions with the powers that be in the past about the sectional assignments, but he knows that the WIAA will not change its philosophy.
So he will likely give his Knights a great inspirational speech in the morning and hope that they can write a story for the ages.
“We’re playing really well right now,” he said, “and the team is really pulling together. If the singles doesn’t play well, the doubles will and vice-versa. We’ve really earned that number two ranking (in the state). We’ve beaten a top team from just about every sectional in the state.”
And as anyone who’s ever known Koppa in his two decades of work with the Knights, the idea of resigning himself to defeat is simply a thought that doesn’t cross his mind.
“It’s a hard road we face, but I don’t think we’ll ever give up,” he said.