Caroline Kowieski faced heavy expectations heading into her senior year with Regis girls tennis. Namely, another trip to the state tournament down in Madison.
Those hopes were thrown into limbo in the spring in the waters outside Costa Rica.
Kowieski came face-to-face with a sizable wave while swimming in the ocean, causing her shoulder to extend backwards and dislocate from its socket. She popped it back into place and, at first, thought she may have escaped the ordeal unscathed.
“I came home and played soccer for a couple months, tried to take a break from tennis,” Kowieski said. “I didn’t really think there was anything wrong with it.”
Then she played tennis for the first time and dislocated it again. That’s when she discovered she had a torn labrum that required surgery.
Since, it’s been a tough rehab back, though she’s been on top of her required work. That helped her stay ahead of schedule, compete in the six meets she needed to to qualify for subsectionals and earn that coveted trip to Nielsen Tennis Stadium. She didn’t just get to the state tournament either. She earned one of eight seeded spots in the Division 2 singles tournament.
“My goal was really just to get back playing this season,” said Kowieski, the No. 7-ranked player in the field. “Getting to go to state too feels like a bonus.”
She isn’t alone on her team in receiving a seeding. The Ramblers doubles duo of Elena Bourget and Evie Shepich also earned the No. 8 spot in doubles. Rambler coach Kyle Seyer said that level of success is nearly unprecedented since he’s been in command of the program.
“Seeds come and go based on how good your program is, and luckily for us we’ve had a pretty successful program the last few years,” Seyer said. “But with that being said, we really haven’t had that many. ... To be recognized, being in the top eight, it’s pretty hard to come by. It’s pretty rare for us to get both the doubles and singles down there.”
Like Kowieski, Bourget started out as a strong singles player for the Ramblers. That changed last year, when the departure of key seniors made a team trip to state unrealistic. The staff wanted to give her the best chance to still get down to state, and pairing her with a promising freshman like Shepich late in the season seemed like the best option.
Both agreed their first match together was rough — a “trainwreck,” Bourget called it — but in time a connection was built.
“We take lessons outside of season, both individually and together,” Shepich said. “That helps a lot with the chemistry, working together as a team.”
“I think it helps that we can both have fun out there together, too, that we’re friends,” Bourget added. “That makes a big difference.”
Bourget and Shepich took first in their sectional on Thursday at the Menard YMCA Tennis Center, pushing the combo’s record this year to 21-8. Kowieski took third, suffering her first loss of the season.
For the Ramblers, the success of their individual competitors is another accomplishment in a strong bounce-back year for the program. With the young 2018 squad, this was a two-year building project.
As a team, Regis won its home sectional by 11 points to earn a spot in the team tournament later this month. The third-seeded Ramblers will meet second-seeded Catholic Memorial on Oct. 26 in the D2 semifinals.
“It was a goal in the offseason,” Seyer said of getting the whole team down to Madison. “We knew we had some talent. We knew if we worked hard we’d have an opportunity to get down there.”
Both Kowieski and the doubles pairing are looking to have longer runs in the bracket than last season. Kowieski earned a spot in the second round last year, the final 16, but fell to Veda Sane of the University School of Milwaukee, 7-6, 6-3. Bourget and Shepich also saw their season end at the hands of University School, dropping their opening-round match to Stephanie Guy and Audrey Treptow.
Having some experience playing at this level prior should help.
“Last year was very nerve-wracking,” Shepich said. “This year I know what to expect a little bit more.”
The atmosphere is certainly a level up from the usual tennis meet, with the facility capable of holding 1,500 people.
“Everyone’s up on the top deck watching you,” Bourget said. “All your parents and teammates are up there watching you, cheering you on. Just the excitement of being there, it’s really cool.”
Kowieski will play Luther’s Sarah Hoffe in the first round, while Bourget and Shepich will face Lydia Olson and Taylor Wenton of Grafton.
Eau Claire Memorial is also heading down to state for the individual tournament, with one Old Abe singles player and two doubles pairs earning a trip to the state’s capital in Division 1.
In singles, Haya Dodin earned a 13th seed and will play Kettle Moraine’s Faith Nosek in the first round. The top 16 players earn a seed in D1.
Kim Harvey and Katie Rentzepis will meet Big Foot/Williams Bay’s Emily Gauger and Clare Heckert, while Julia Nick and Natalie Harvey will play Ashwaubenon’s Maddy Coopmans and Kennedy Conradt.
Competition kicks off at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, with action running through Saturday.