By Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor
Three North tennis players competed in the state tournament Thursday, the most for fourth-year coach Andrew Bayliss, including two of them that had never been there before.
“Now I know what it’s like at state and I know what I need to work on to get better,” sophomore Louisa Damkot said.
Junior teammate Cadi Zhang also made her debut at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison.
“It’s like competing on another level,” she said. “Everyone here is super intense. It’s really fun to play with people who are at another level. It was really fun and a great experience.”
Senior Ashwini Murthy was at state last year, when she advanced to the third round of doubles, but she had to replace her partner this season.
Zhang, who played No. 2 and 3 doubles a year ago, moved up to No. 1 with Murthy.
“I feel like it’s been more of a learning curve, because I’m not used to playing at that level,” Zhang said. “I feel like I definitely struggled in the beginning and I just couldn’t compete with the pace and how much strategy that went into it. I feel as the year progressed, it just got better.”
It was the third year in a row the Golden Raiders advanced to state doubles, but Murthy and Zhang finished with a 19-8 record after suffering a 5-7, 6-4 (8) loss to Shelby Roth and Lauren Kombiewicz of Neenah in the Division 1 first round.
“The matches were close as they really possibly could’ve been,” Bayliss said. “Neither of our girls served very well – they had a crazy number of double faults – but still stayed extremely tough and didn’t let that affect them. Which given the moment was pretty impressive. They actually played fantastic. They just need to serve a little bit better and they would’ve pulled it out. But the third-set tiebreaker was really high-level tennis from both teams. They couldn’t have done much else in that one.”
Bayliss had not had a single player reach state until now, as Damkot moved up from No. 4 singles to No. 1 this year.
“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t expecting (state) at all,” Damkot said. “But then during the year, I kind of wanted to get there.”
She had to face 16th-seeded Abby Bremel of Madison West in the first round, however, and suffered a 6-0, 6-1 loss.
“Louisa played her first set like it was her first set at state: super nervous and kind of getting her feet wet, not quite hitting out like she normally does,” Bayliss said. “But in the second set, even though it was 6-1 still, she actually played really well. She hit the ball better, the points were better, the games were closer, so she really got her teeth into the match in the second set. She played solid, but the other girl is a seeded player for a reason.”