Sarah Koltermann and Megan Phillips found themselves at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium on Oct. 21 for the Division 1 state tournament. Two months ago, the thought of the two qualifying for state doubles together seemed like a distant possibility. But there they were, and doing quite well.
Koltermann, a senior with immense doubles experience, and Phillips, a sophomore who preferred singles before a back injury less than two years ago limited her on the court, took their first-round match against Eau Claire North seniors Kennedy Kleist and Mariah Kent, 6-2, 6-1.
The win vaulted them into the second round against the No. 10 seed from Manitowoc Lincoln, senior Jen Belilse and sophomore Allyson Verbauwhede. It was tight throughout, but Koltermann and Phillips gutted out a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) victory.
"We were so happy just to make it past that first round," Phillips said. "Coming in, they were a 10 seed a very good, and we're not even seeded. (Mukwonago coach Jordan) Van Riper and (assistant coach Jon Wierzbicki), they both told us, 'Whatever happens, we're so proud of you guys. Everything beyond your season is extra credit now. You need to know we're proud of you.' I have to say, I think Sarah and I would both say for that match we played some of the best tennis of our careers.
"When it comes to that point and there's not as much pressure on you from your coaches, you just get to lay everything out on the court. You just get to hit the ball. I think I kind of noticed that with us both. When there's pressure, you tense up, and when you tense up during tennis, you can't play as well. When there's no pressure, you just get to give everything you've got and hit it. I think that really pushed us through that match."
Koltermann and Phillips were the first Mukwonago girls doubles team to qualify for state since 2011.
"Coming into it, both me and Megan were expecting it to be a tougher match because the girls were seeded, and obviously a seed means a lot at state for tennis," Koltermann said. "I think the first set, we were really close with them. It was basically neck and neck because we were still kind of figuring out how to play them. The second set, we actually started to get a bigger lead on them. ... Me and Megan didn't close right away. I think we had five match points. Both tiebreakers, which were obviously very close, we went 7-5. The whole match was a really tough match. The girls we played were really good at the net and were really good at poaching. It was just all about us figuring out how to deal with that and avoid them at the net."
After qualifying for state, Koltermann helped Phillips calm any thought of nerves before the tournament even took place.
"I was talking to my coach about it and he told me, 'The first time you see this place, there's going to be nerves,'" Phillips said. "I normally get nervous for my matches, but I was kind of like, 'Oh, I'm going to be nervous for this. Big stadium, lots of people, the best of the best are there.' My doubles partner, Sarah, she does not get nervous. She always tells me, 'Megan, what are nerves? What do you have to be worried about?' We got there, and she's never been to state, but she's seen the Nielsen Center and everything, so she was like, 'There's nothing to be worried about.'"
The duo lost in the third round to Nicolet's seventh-seeded team of senior Marli Stellhorn and sophomore Emma Koppa, 6-4, 6-2.
Phillips played No. 4 singles as a freshman and even started the season off at No. 1 singles, but her back wouldn't cooperate. She was moved to two singles, yet the back still bothered her. Van Riper decided to move Phillips to doubles, where she played with older sister Mackenzie, a senior, for some of the season. It was an accomplishment to even compete this year, as Phillips was only medically cleared to play just a week before the season began.
"I was always scared of doubles, I'm not going to lie," Phillips said. "Even as a singles player I didn't work the net too much. Having to play at the net, people are aggressive at doubles, I was thinking, 'Oh boy, this is scary.'"
Koltermann, on the other hand, enjoyed doubles from the beginning. When Van Riper moved his lineup around, Koltermann went from playing No. 1 doubles with Mackenzie Phillips to No. 1 singles for a couple of weeks.
"For me, singles, I cannot understand the game," Koltermann said. "I played No. 1 doubles for the previous two years, so then all the sudden switching to singles, I had to worry about the different lines with the singles court and the doubles court. Usually, the No. 1 singles specifically are the players on each team that spend the most time practicing. They know the game the best. They're usually the best player on the team. They see all these really consistent, great players. It was really difficult compared to doubles."
Koltermann and Megan Phillips had played together last winter for fun, and the two enjoyed being on the court together. In early September, Van Riper put his strongest doubles lineup together with the younger Phillips and Koltermann side by side.
The two proved to be a worthy pair, even after a season full of constant changes and adjustments.