MADISON — The Prairie School boys tennis team aced its final tests of the season on Saturday.
And the Hawks’ reward?
Gold medals and some school history.
The Hawks won two matches Saturday at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium at the University of Wisconsin to win the WIAA Division 2 team title — the first boys state team tennis championship in school history.
Prairie (21-4) beat Kohler 6-1 in the semifinals on Saturday morning, then defeated defending Division 2 champion Madison Edgewood 6-1 to take home the gold.
“I don’t things could have finished any better,” said senior and No. 1 singles player Juan Perez. “It feels great to represent the school and win for them. We got them some hardware.”
It was the first appearance at the state team tournament for the Hawks, who were guided by first-year coach Nich Schafer.
Schafer, Prairie’s long-time girls coach, took over the boys after Harold Swanson retired after 41 years at the helm.
“These boys wanted it and they went out and did it,” Schafer said. “They deserve this, after all the hard work they have put in this season. All that hard work made everything worth it.
“This feels great,” said senior Rohan Banerjee. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been close to getting here, always close in sectionals, but this year we got over that hump. And today, that’s the pinnacle.”
Senior Andrew Liu clinched the title by winning his No. 2 singles match. That gave Prairie four wins in the seven-flight match.
“I knew when I was playing that we had two wins and were pretty close to getting a third,” Liu said. “I started to step it up a little bit. Then we got the third win and we needed just one more to clinch. I wanted to make sure to got that one.”
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“The guys were ready to go crazy after Andrew’s win, but we weren’t going to celebrate until everyone was done,” Schafer said.
After Liu’s win, the No. 1 doubles team of junior Peter Lamberton and senior Jacob Ruud won, as did Perez at No. 1 singles to add some gloss to the final score line.
“We had great depth this season,” Banerjee said. “I don’t think there was anyone in the lineup that knew they absolutely had to win for us to win. When you’re strong as a team, that takes a lot of pressure off each guy.”
The Hawks played, and beat, Edgewood 5-2 in the team’s first match of the season. But both teams looked significantly different back then, Schafer said.
“Juan wasn’t there for us, so everyone played up one notch. Edgewood’s No. 1 wasn’t there as well,” he said. “Edgewood looked much better today than they did back then, and I think we are stronger team now then we were.”
The championship match started with the No. 3 doubles team of junior Wesley Eaton and senior Felipe Ramos coming back in both sets to win. Schafer said the duo was down 4-1 in the first set and 3-0 in the second set before rallying.
“That was really huge for us,” Schafer said. “For them come back and win helps the next people playing. With that first win, you can play a little looser.”
The Hawks started the day by beating Kohler 6-1 in the semifinals. That was same score that Prairie defeated Kohler earlier this season, with Division 2 singles champion Casey Johnson once again beating Perez – the state runner-up – for Kohler’s only win.
Liu, Banerjee (No. 3 singles), Pranav Bajaj (No. 4 singles) all won their matches in straight sets, as did the No. 2 doubles team of Dino Tousis and Lucas Goelz.
Most of the Prairie team headed to Madison on Friday night right after the school’s graduation ceremonies, Schafer said.
“It wasn’t too hard to focus,” Banerjee said. “We were all looking forward to playing at state. Everyone was really focused on today. We all knew we were ready.”
Said Perez: “Coach reminded us that we all had things to work on. After that, it was all about having fun, keeping disciplined and staying relaxed.”
The Hawks will look very different next season as five seniors played their final high school match Saturday. Perez, Liu, Banerjee, Ruud and Ramos all graduated this year.
“We have some guys that are ready to step in when the time comes,” Schafer said. “But that 1-2-3 punch with Juan, Andrew and Rohan will be missed.”