Oak Creek senior tennis player Kayla Stolz is nothing if not an adaptable, flexible person.
Stolz will be making her third straight trip to the WIAA state tennis tournament this week in doubles, and with her will be junior Tori Lara. The two have compiled an impressive 29-6 record and earned their state tournament berth with a third-place finish in the sectional tournament at Greenfield on Oct. 5. Stolz said, just like every other season, the pair have learned about their strengths and weaknesses and made things work.
Stolz has one simple goal.
"I'm really happy to get there for the third time," she said. "Now the key for us will to be get past the first round. After that, things will take care of themselves."
Stolz and her previous partners have lost in the first round in each of the last two state tourneys, so there is a sense of urgency for her.
"It's been a new perspective for me this fall, being a senior," she said. "I realized that it was my turn to step up and try and help others grow. That's a huge aspect for our team — to have good bonds and forge good relationships with the younger players on the team. I've really liked this group. I'm looking forward to coming back (after she graduates) and seeing how they've progressed."
Because Stolz remembers the help she got in that aspect when she was a younger player just coming up.
"When I was a freshman," she said, "I wanted to play singles, but Coach 'T' (Don Tellefsen) asked me to try doubles, and I got to work with Laura Ungerecht, and she really helped me. She really helped shape who I was. Ever since, I've been working to find that bond, that 'click.' I've liked all my partners. I try to learn what they need, try to help them on and off the court as best I can."
Stolz and Lara will try to help each other as best as possible when they take on the Whitefish Bay second team of Dani Lester and Ali Menard (25-6) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison. If they win, they will play the winner of of a match between a Tosa West and Nicolet pair on Friday, Oct. 14, in a second-round match.
Tellefsen thinks the pair is ready for a serious run.
"Like most everyone on the team, these players played their toughest down the stretch," he said. "They didn't falter; they competed well against high level competition."
Stolz, for her part, is going to try and enjoy this last trip to Madison.
"I love playing in that stadium (Nielsen), so this will be very bittersweet," she said. "I'm sad that it's my last time, but we're going to give it our best."
Like they did in the rain-splattered sectional at Greenfield. Stolz and Lara earned their berth in surprisingly easy fashion, downing a Milwaukee King pair (9-9) by a 6-0, 6-0 count. In the semifinals, they fell to eventual sectional champions and fourth-seed Elise Gerard and Annabelle Crowley of Nicolet (25-7), 6-3, 6-1.
In the consolation match, they came back to beat Franklin's Whitney Dohr and Annika Bartelt (20-8) by a 6-1, 7-6 count. The victory over the Franklin pair was very important, Stolz said, because that same Saber duo had upset Stolz and Lara in the Southeast Conference tournament the week before.
"They came out at us really strong again, but we were able to come out with a win this time," Stolz said.
Stolz has some big goals following this state tournament. She wants to finish high school strong, and then when she gets to college, she plans on majoring in criminology and would eventually like to earn a law degree. She also wants to play tennis at the college level if possible.
The Knights had one other high achiever make sectional, as senior first singles player Varsha Sriram (15-19) lost her quarterfinal to a Bay opponent to end her season.
Tellefsen was proud of the work Sriram did competing against the top players on Oak Creek's very tough schedule.
"I thought she handled herself well," Tellefsen said. "She had two very good years at first singles."
Oak Creek finished sixth of 16 in the sectional with 17 points, as Nicolet won with 49.
Tellefsen thought it was a great way to end the team portion of the season, especially with a team that has only two seniors (Sriram and Stolz).
"Like I said, I thought we were competing well at the end," he said.