Regis tennis’ Mitchell Merkel and Brent Martin had never played together before the start of the season. They did have something in common, though. Both were moving up the team’s ranks due to last year’s seniors’ graduation and playing first doubles for the first time in their careers.
Martin slid up from second doubles, while Merkel made the big jump from third.
“The stakes are definitely higher,” Martin said.
The Rambler partners proved they were up to the challenge Wednesday at the Menard YMCA Tennis Center.
The doubles pair bested Viroqua/Westby’s Mitchell Hanson and Jared Anderson, 6-1, 6-3, in the first round of their flight to move into the top four and secure a spot at state in the Division 2 sectionals. They were the only locals to move on at the Regis-hosted event.
“It’s a big deal,” Merkel said. “We have this board in our school that has everyone that’s gone down to state.”
“We both just want our names on it,” Martin interjected.
Regis coach Kyle Seyer said Merkel and Martin have improved greatly since the first day of practice, putting in the time to get to this point. They’ve been steady for much of the year but they took it up a notch at the conference tournament.
“If you would have asked me where they would have been in the beginning of the year, I don’t think I would have bet on them or guaranteed them to go to the state tournament,” Seyer said. “They’ve really worked hard, they’ve gelled together and things have really went their way in some tough matches.”
Seyer said he’s been impressed with their ability to mesh despite the short history with one another. He chalks that up to their positive mindsets and compatible personalities. While the pair describe themselves as two mellow players, Seyer said Merkel is the more emotional of the two, while Martin has a real steady keel.
“It’s kind of good when you have one of each,” Seyer said. “When you have two emotional guys you get in some trouble sometimes.”
Their chances of winning the flight Wednesday were ended in the semifinal round by a mighty Sauk Prairie team of Kelby Mack and Noah Wankerl, 6-0, 6-0, but that didn’t put a damper on the afternoon.
“We really had nothing to lose in that game with Sauk Prairie,” Merkel said. “That first match, having it already done and won, it’s super exciting. A super big opportunity.”
“It look the pressure off,” Martin added.
Altoona’s second doubles duo of Carter Temberg and Ty Rondestvedt nearly punched their ticket to Madison as well, but fell in three sets in the title match to La Crosse Logan’s Jonathon Marcou and Sam Novak. Temberg and Rondestvedt got off to a tough start, failing to notch a point in the first game of the match. Temberg’s serve was also off early on, leading to a handful of double faults.
Logan took the first set 6-4, but Temberg and Rondestvedt settled down and responded with a strong 6-3 victory in the second set. The the third set was back and forth, but Marcou and Novak pulled off a close 6-4 triumph to take the match.
Regis’ Gavin Bowe was the lone local player competing in the top singles flight. He fell in the first round, 6-3, 6-2, to Black River Falls’ Paul Barbe. Altoona’s duo of John Fox and Trevor Kempen and Baldwin-Woodville’s pair of Zach Nilssen and Sam Brock both fell in the first round in the top doubles flight.
The individual section of the state tournament kicks off on May 30 at Nielsen Tennis Stadium.
Eau Claire Memorial earned a spot in the Division 1 state team competition, while five Old Abes earned individual selections at the sectional in Wisconsin Rapids.
The Abes swept the first flight in both singles and doubles, with Sam Rechek besting Hudson’s Tyler Grosz and the pair of Max Loen and Danylo Ripeckyj beating Marshfield’s Jared Cordova and Will Fay.
Will Hayes and Grant Wolfe also advanced with a first-place finish in the second doubles.
Menomonie had a pair of qualifiers in Ethan Wurtzel, who finished third in the first flight of singles, and the duo of Victor Kaufman and Jackson Trunkel, who finished in the first flight of doubles. Chippewa Falls’ Sean Martin earned a spot with a fourth-place finish in the first singles flight.
As a team, the Old Abes notched 56 points, 23 better than second-placed Hudson.