It all came down to this. Carolyn Schaefer, DSHA ’24, walked onto the court during her first trip to the team WIAA Tennis State Championship. If she won her match, DSHA would take home the state title. She lost by one point to a junior from Muskego High School, arguably “the best player in high school tennis,” said DSHA Varsity Tennis Head Coach Melissa Gebhardt.
“Not a lot of people knew about (Carolyn),” Gebhardt said. “She was my diamond in the rough. She really gets down the business, and she is very talented. She was put in a tough situation, but handled it with poise, class, grit, and grace. I’m so proud of her.”
And while the team took pride in her performance, Schaefer still wished she could have gotten the job done for her team.
While the team worked hard to accomplish their goal to get to the state tournament, the season became much more about experiencing a unique year that taught them much—and learning together.
IT STARTS WITH YOU
With the numbers of COVID-19 cases rising in the greater community, Captain Emily Martin, DSHA ’21, and her teammates had to learn personal responsibility first and foremost if they wanted to play the entire season and make it to the state tournament.
“We didn’t want to stop playing after a week or stress about what was going to happen,” she said. “We made it as far as we did because we took seriously the rules to stay home, wear a mask, and wash your hands. Making it the whole way to state was the priority, and we focused on that.”
Gebhardt saw that determination to stay responsible in her players as well. “They really kept each other accountable for their actions,” she said. “They reminded each other to mask up and stay healthy.”
While the girls learned to take the actions necessary to keep themselves and their teammates safe, they also learned to be flexible when it came to competing.
The varsity tennis team has lost big players over the last couple of years – players who are currently competing in college at the D-1 level. This year, they started the season with only four returning players. The rest were new to starting on varsity, or new to the team in general.
“We were lucky and fortunate enough that we have a lot of depth on our team, and to have had some nice talent coming in from players so young,” Gebhardt said.
Having a large amount of talent was helpful when it came to tournaments. With smaller tournaments due to teams dropping out because of the virus, many of the new team members received more opportunities to play, explained Martin.
“Because the tournaments were smaller, they were more flexible. It wasn’t as rigid as it usually is,” she said. “Players were able to step in and play against other teams. It was fun but different, being thrown into different positions.”
LEANING ON EACH OTHER
With all the changes that came this season, there was an importance placed on supporting one another—in other words, being true teammates.
For Schaefer, this meant learning how to play an individual sport, but as one cohesive group; this was the first year she played on a tennis team. “I’ve played in a lot of tournaments before, but for myself,” she said. “This season I learned how to be a teammate. I found I really like playing on a team. I’m not playing for myself; I’m playing for my friends.”
For other members of the squad, support comes in the form of cheering. When the team is at tournaments and games, they can cheer one another on— even from across the room—something Martin says not many people understand about tennis.
“We have special cheers that we’re known for; we’re notorious for our cheers,” Martin said. “We are the loudest team out there at the tournaments and games. I am so proud to have this reputation of being supportive and having this great community. It has been amazing to have this bond and positive energy amongst us. I know my teammates will encourage me no matter what.”
RESLILENCY IN MOVING FORWARD
Although every member of the team showed flexibility and encouragement, the road to the state tournament was not straight and narrow, said Martin. The competition was fierce, and the girls knew they had to put in extra time practicing to be successful.
“It was a different year this year and we knew we had to work extra hard,” Martin said. "But we adjusted. Every single person was ready. The ability to be at the state tournament—that definitely wasn’t handed to us. Coming out of sectionals at the top was a huge accomplishment.”
The group took the season in stride, one day at a time, one week at a time, said Gebhardt. Under the circumstances of this year, the team has much to celebrate: winning their conference, winning the WIAA Sectional, sending six players to the individual state championship, not to mention taking home the runner-up trophy at team state.
And the team has many accomplishments to look forward to.
“I see great things in our future,” said Gebhardt. “We have a young team, and so much talent left on the team. We get closer and closer every year, and a state championship will come sooner rather than later.”
“Our team has such a bright future,” said Martin. “I’ll be watching them. They are not done.”
RECOGNITION FOR SPORTSMANSHIP
In December, the WIAA awarded the girls and their coaches the Team Sportsmanship Award out of all the teams in the Division 1 WIAA State Tennis tournament. Award winners are determined by the conduct and sportsmanship displayed by athletes and coaches. Additional consideration is given for the effort of school administrators to positively support their teams and encourage their players to demonstrate sportsmanship.