Germantown tennis players Stodola, Wait win sectional, earn third state seed
Duo has chance at state title
It wasn't gigantic as far as sports earthquakes go, but there was a definite tremor in Wisconsin prep tennis that occurred at the WIAA sectional tournament at Wauwatosa West on May 29.
And it caught a lot of people's attention, because with their stunning title in the first doubles bracket, which included wins over teams from state powers Brookfield East and Homestead, the Germantown duo of junior Eric Stodola and senior Ben Wait (25-2 on the season) moved the Warhawks from standing in line outside the door with the rest of the wannabes, hoping for a a few crumbs from the powers that be, to sitting at the table with the elite demanding the best steak in the house.
With that title, they earned the third seed in this weekend's WIAA State Individual Tournament at the Nielsen Center in Madison — the first time any Germantown entry has earned a seed that high. If they perform up to standard, there's an excellent chance they will be top six medalists; and if they play like they did in the sectional, they could command the top spot itself, that of state champion.
"If we could make finals, there wouldn't be words I could think of to say," Stodola said, "and the idea of winning state just puts me in shock. We've worked so hard throughout the years, and now here we are."
Some respected voices in the state tennis world don't think it's that big a pipe dream.
"I've gotten to know those guys," said Nicolet coach Tim Koppa, who has coached several state champions himself. "They're pretty cool kids. They're very athletic, they serve well and they volley well. If they play like they can, they can beat anyone out there."
They've proven that point already. They will get a first-round bye and then play a second-round match at about 9 a.m. Friday, June 6, at Nielsen. They could play up to three matches on Friday, which if they win, would put them in the Saturday, June 7, 9:45 a.m. semifinals. The title match is slated for around 2 p.m. Saturday.
The top seeds are, ironically, Will Kammerait and Aaron Rempel of Homestead (12-2), who have accounted for the Germantown pair's only two losses on the season and who Wait and Stodola dispatched in stunning 6-2, 6-4 fashion in the sectional championship.
Germantown coach Jeff Stodola, Eric's father, is stunned and proud of how far the program has come in the last few years.
"It was a good day for Germantown tennis," he said of the sectional. "This program has come a long way the past few years and a lot of work has been done to get there."
Yes, it has.
The pair are state meet veterans. Wait made it in first singles last year, and Eric advanced with the now graduated Johnny McCauley in doubles. Both won a first-round match before falling. It was believed to be the first time that two Germantown entries had advanced to state tennis in the same season.
Sometime over the summer, the pair, who are close friends off the court, hatched a plan to form a doubles team. They proposed it to the coaches, and everyone agreed it would be a good idea. They won a few off-season tournaments together and gained momentum and confidence heading into this spring.
"Being friends in the off-season always helps," Eric said. "It makes for a good foundation. We just have good chemistry. He (Wait) has a stronger serve, and I have a stronger return. It balances out.
"And we both want to get to the net. The coaches keep saying 'At the net, you're lethal.'"
Many good wins occurred during the regular season. A chance to record a monumental win over Kammerait and Rempel in the finals of the North Shore Conference Tournament was on their racquet, but it slipped away.
That just provided momentum for the sectional May 29. They were joined there by senior first singles player Logan Symes (13-12), who dropped a tough quarterfinal match to end his season.
They beat a Pius XI squad 6-4, 6-4, in the quarterfinals to formally qualify for state, but the big move came in the semifinals when they overpowered the East team, whom they had not played this season yet, 6-3, 6-4.
Coach Stodola said his duo "returned well, won the big points and hit freely", in the East match.
This was only a prelude to the win over Homestead, which was all but sealed in the first set when the Warhawk pair won the first five games.
"We just clicked that day," Wait said. "We returned better than we have all season and served really well, too. When that happens, pretty good things usually occur. That was arguably the toughest sectional out there, so this has us super excited. The first Germantown (tennis players) to win a sectional title.
"We really came into it (the sectional) with a chip on our shoulders because we feel we've improved a lot since the season started. I think we've improved each match. Maybe this was lightning in a bottle ."
They were playing so well at sectional that Eric almost wished the state tournament had started the next day. He echoed Koppa's thoughts about their chances this weekend.
"We had no reason not to be confident," he said. "We stay confident we can beat any team in the state."
Which if they do, would be a very large sports earthquake indeed.
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