Mike Mirsberger had been in this position before and endured a heartbreaking close call. This time around, the Catholic Memorial senior and his sophomore doubles partner were leaving no room for drama.
Mirsberger and Tommy Matoska captured the first individual state tennis title in Catholic Memorial history, dominating the field in the WIAA Division 2 state draw at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in early June. After a 7-5, 6-3 loss with older brother Matt Mirsberger in the state final in 2013, Mike and Matoska never surrendered more than four games in any set this year, including in the 6-2, 6-0 victory over Nick Williams and Nick Calawerts of Notre Dame in the final match.
'I knew it was my last chance with (my brother in 2013),' Mike said. 'I just lost in my finals with my doubles partner for the past three years. It was sad, but at the same time, I knew I was so close and if I had the right partner, which Tommy ended up being, we could do great things. I knew the team we played in the finals (in 2013) was two seniors (and would be graduated in 2014), and that was inspiring in a way.'
Matoska, who took fourth at the state singles tourney as a freshman, was no untested rookie. The two played their first tournament together as a doubles team in January and took first place, laying the groundwork for what was to come.
'I felt it was pretty easy to transition,' Matoska said. 'Being a good singles player helps your doubles game, and doing well in doubles helps your singles game. Just the strategy (is different), but I don't think the way we play is any different.'
'Pick your poison,' said CMH coach Carl Veenendaal. 'Both these guys have power, finesse, consistency, patience, and they both are incredibly smart. Pick either one of them, and they're lethal. Matoska will get the ball back and he's going to get it back to a spot where it's going to hurt you, and the opponent will pop it up and have a weak shot. If they don't, it's coming back to another weak spot and Mirsberger is going to cross and crush that ball.'
League title winners
In the regular season, Veenendaal essentially picked both poisons.
With the prospect of a conference title available to the Crusaders, Mirsberger played No. 1 singles and Matoska at No. 2, leading Memorial to a sweep of the four singles crowns (along with state qualifier Christian Erickson at No. 3 and David Verbockel at No. 4) at the conference showcase in Waukesha. CMH defeated three-time defending champion Arrowhead by a single point in that event before turning its attention to the WIAA postseason.
'They drill constantly when we don't have matches (in the other discipline),' Veenendaal said. 'It's a fine line. I've got to get them their singles experience for the conference tournament and get them their doubles experience for state. These guys come out of my system and would be ideal college players, because they do both and they do both well, as opposed to some kids that are just strictly singles. Doubles is an art.'
Veenendaal, who won a pair of state doubles championships during his time at Wauwatosa West, said he was fairly hands off once state began.
'Their fire was just unbelievable,' he said. 'All I had to do was sit back and enjoy it. When Matoska hit, Mirsberger is eventually going to cross and crush the ball and vice versa. The only thing I had to do was get them fired up, keep them focused, give them my select words of wisdom from my high-school days and my days of college playing.'
It was a sweet turnaround from last year, where Veenendaal believes the Mirsberger brothers could have defeated their finals opponent seven times out of 10.
'It's awesome to be the first for Catholic Memorial,' said Mike, who fell to Kettle Moraine's Chayce Roecker in straight sets during the regular season but defeated him in the conference tournament in a thrilling third-set super tiebreaker for the crown. 'We're just setting the pathway for more, hopefully. It's definitely cool to be the first. There're banners up in the school and there's never been a state tennis banner; it's hopefully inspiring to everybody else, the JV and kids on varsity to work harder to try and get another one.'
Matoska will certainly get his shot with another two years in the program.
'Last year, going to state, I didn't really have any expectations and didn't know what the atmosphere was like,' Matoska said. 'It took me a little while to get used to my surroundings, but by the end, I relaly knew what I was doing. I felt a lot more comfortable and really used to the atmosphere right away (this time).'
The duo dropped a grand total of nine games in four state matches.
'(Veenendaal) just said to win the state title, you have to keep your cool, especially because you're the one seed,' Matoska said. 'Everyone wants to take out the one seed. We knew we had to stay on our toes and couldn't back down. It wasn't going to be a cake walk. We had to win every single match.'
Waukesha South competed in the team state tournament at Nielsen Tennis Stadium on June 13 and fell to Eau Claire Memorial in the opening round, 7-0. All the losses came in straight sets.
Members of the qualifying team were (singles) Ben Graichen, Brett Venzke, Luis Pena, Riley Teutschmann, (doubles) Matt Arvedson, Chandler Hall, Danny Perez, Al Tejada, Josiah Culver and Dominic Martino.