After finishing the Greater Metro Conference (GMC) season undefeated, the team finished first in the conference tournament. They then moved on to the WIAA Sub-Sectional tournament and came out on top with twenty-four points, advancing to the WIAA Sectional Final at Kenosha Tremper. The Dashers won this tournament, which sent them to the WIAA Team Tennis State Championship at the Nielsen Tennis Center at UW-Madison – DSHA’s first trip to Team State since 2013.
They officially finished as the WIAA Division 1 State Runner-up at Team State, falling in a close battle against Homestead High School 3-4 after defeating Badger High School 5-2 in the first round and Madison Memorial 4-3 in the semi-finals to make it to the championship match.
The team also qualified two singles players and two doubles players for the Individual State Tennis Tournament at the Nielsen Tennis Center. Competing in the doubles championship were Sophie Stangl, DSHA ’19, and Julia Colon, DSHA ’20; and Murphy Mellowes, DSHA ’20, and Ellen Cyganiak, DSHA ‘19. Competing in the singles championship, Schifano finished fourth overall, and White finished second overall.
WHAT DRIVES THEM
Many members of the team have been playing together for years, and their strong bonds showed on the court.
“The whole team gets along so well, and I think that we were able to do well because of our team chemistry,” senior White says. “We set goals early in the season, and every member on the team worked hard to achieve them.”
In fact, qualifying for team state was one of their goals. “Although we lost, we were all very proud of each other,” junior Schifano says. “In the end, it’s not about winning or losing but about being a team that encourages each other and competing at our best.”
Coach Melissa Gebhardt sees these interpersonal connections as being key to not only their success but also creating a stronger team.
“What is most important to me as a coach are the connections I make with my players and the unity we build over the course of the season,” Gebhardt says. “Working together for a common goal and accomplishing it while having fun in the process is what it’s all about. Coaching for me is about working together as a team and creating memories.”
WHEN FRIENDS MEET ON THE COURT
Teammates Schifano and White have been on the same team for the last three years and played each other two years ago at individual state in the second round. This year, they met each other on the court in the semi-finals. This would be stressful for most players, but both Schifano and White approached it as though it was a regular match.
“We tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal, and our teammates did a good job of keeping our minds off of the situation,” White says.
Leading up to the competition, these two Dashers were constantly around each other. They went to dinner together with the team, shared the same hotel room, warmed up together, and drove over to the Nielsen Center the morning of before playing against each other. Even though they were competing against each other, they didn’t let their friendship suffer.
“It’s always hard playing against a good friend,” White says. “I had to think about playing the ball instead of playing Jordan.”
And Schifano agrees.
“It was hard for us to compete against each other because we both want to win,” she says. “But no matter what happens, we are very supportive of each other and want the best for both of us.”
WHEN MOTHER AND DAUGHTER BECOME OPPONENTS
Coach Gebhardt found her team going up against Homestead High School four times throughout the season, the team her daughter Jamie plays for. For each of these matches, Gebhardt took a step back and allowed her assistant Brooke Skemp to coach.
“The way we looked at it, it was just another match where Jamie had a job to do to win for her team,” Gebhardt says. “I had a job to do to help my team win.”
The stakes may have been higher when the two teams went up against each other at State, but Gebhardt didn’t let that affect how she approached the match.
“We are both very competitive, and we just had to give it our all and let the results speak for themselves,” she says. “It was awkward and made for very interesting dinner conversation, but it was ‘may the best team win.’”
Both Gebhardt and her team are hopeful that they will return to state next year and are ready for the road ahead.
“We lost three of our strong and talented seniors, one of which being my doubles partner,” junior Mellowes says. “We will definitely have to rebuild the team a little bit and work hard from there, just like we did this past season. I’m looking forward to team meals, long-late-night matches, fun-Friday practices, and of course, taking the white vans back up to Madison again next season.”
And Gebhardt readily agrees. “Our goal next season is to keep up our same intensity and drive,” she says. “There is no reason that the goal of qualifying for team state can’t be well within our reach again.”