As tennis balls zoom back and forth across the net in the chaotic frenzy of Division 1 sectional tennis, Eau Claire Memorial’s Jim Litscher walks slowly along the baseline of the Menard YMCA Tennis Center.
He doesn’t lose his cool, yell or cheer, instead he somehow manages to watch all his Memorial girls as they compete on four or five different courts simultaneously. It’s a trick he’s learned from his 30 years at the helm of Old Abes tennis. He somehow has a knack for knowing just when to walk over and impart a piece of advice or a word of encouragement.
It’s what has made the Old Abes so successful under Litscher for so long. He’s seen his Abes make 20 appearances at state over his tenure, and after Wednesday’s sectional team victory, appearance number 21 is on its way.
“I think the kids work hard and obviously tradition helps,” Litscher said of his program’s success.
That tradition comes from Litscher. He won’t admit it, but others will.
“There is a tradition of commitment that everyone puts into the team,” assistant coach Phillip Strozinsky said. “I think Litscher has really made it a priority that it is a team effort, not just individuals playing.”
Strozinsky played for Litscher’s boys team until he graduated in 2001. He was never a tennis enthusiast growing up, preferring to play hockey instead, but when he joined the team, that began to change.
“He makes everyone want to work harder and just be better,” Strozinsky said. “He’s such a great coach, but he’s also such a great person and I think people respect him. You want to play not only for yourself but for him too and I think that’s an important part of Memorial tennis.”
When Litscher sees one of his girls struggling, he’ll focus in on that game, paying keen attention to what his girl is doing before delivering a piece of advice.
“He gives us a lot of strategy tips. Like hit twice to her forehand and then one to her backhand, move around the court,” said Haya Dodin, Memorial’s No. 1 singles player. “He always has something to tell you instead of just saying ‘good job, keep it going.’”
And yet, he’s able to focus on all the girls somehow simultaneously, a skill bewildering to Dodin.
“He must be a smart guy, I don’t know how he does it,” she said.
Dodin’s Wednesday performance allowed Litscher to focus in on some of his other girls. She was dominant, dropping just one set in her first match before cruising 6-0, 6-0, in the semifinals and 6-0, 6-0 past Hudson’s Ella Diedrich for the championship.
“I’m really happy with how I played,” Dodin said.
As a junior last year, Dodin fell in her first-round matchup at state, but she’s better this year according to Litscher and with a good seed she could be poised for a deep run.
On the doubles side, Memorial’s No 1. pairing of Kimberly Harvey and Katie Rentzepis advanced to state winning their first-round match 6-1, 6-0, over Rhinelander’s pair. Natalie Harvey and Julia Nick also qualified individually winning 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, to take the No. 2 doubles championship for Memorial.
Elsewhere, Anna Hoitomt won the No. 3 singles championship for Memorial, beating Hudson’s Laura Douglas 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. At No. 4 singles, Memorial’s Abby Jochimsen won the title, beating Hudson’s Lily Holmberg 6-2, 6-2. In No. 3 doubles, Memorial’s Lexie Patrow and Lauren Carmody beat Grace Lewis and Kaliegh Sansone of Hudson 6-2, 6-2 for the championship.
In total, Memorial scored 26 sectional points, which, combined with its 24 subsectional points gave the Old Abes more than enough to qualify for state as a team with 50 points. Hudson came second, scoring 34 combined points as a team.