Athlete of the Week: Memorial Boys Tennis sends 9 to State

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- For the 13th consecutive year, the Eau Claire Memorial boys tennis team will be heading to the WIAA state tournament as a team, but this year, the team is sending the most individual players they’ve ever sent with 9 qualifiers. The team is our Osseo Automotive Athlete of the Week. SportScene 13’s Neil Hebert reports.

Memorial boys tennis' Danylo Ripeckyj and Max Loen give each other a high five after scoring a point.

“If you’re lucky you can get 6 that can qualify, and we just happened to get a couple more invited,” a modest statement coming from head coach, Jim Litscher, whose program is sending every varsity starter except one to state. That success doesn’t happen overnight.

“I think it’s a number of things. We’ve got a lot of parental support,” Litscher said. “A lot of these kids have had siblings that played, so they started young.”

“All of us seniors have been playing together for an extremely long time, even when we were little kids, not even just high school,” senior Will Hayes, a two doubles member on this Memorial tennis squad, said. “We’ve all dreamed of being on a team like this.”

“We played a lot of good teams; that’s part of the reason we succeeded in this section and why we are well-prepared for the team state tournament,” Sam Rechek, the Old Abes’ one singles player, said.

The team dynamic is assorted: some characters and some business-like, but it works.

“I think when you have a lot of different personalities on a team, it keeps it exciting and interesting,” Mark Pepperl, who plays two singles for the Old Abes, said. “After the match, I’ll definitely get amped up. In the middle of it, you’ll see me and I’m usually as serious as a wall.”

Memorial’s two doubles duo of Will Hayes and Grant Wolfe is polar opposite.

“Grant and I fit together well because we’re both here to have fun. Part of what makes a good doubles team good is how the partners mesh together,” Hayes said. “Danylo (Ripeckyj) and Max (Loen) mesh together extremely well because they’re more on the reserved side.”

“We all have our moments for sure,” Rechek said. “That’s the fun part, when we’re playing a match and you can tell when someone’s into it, you hear them 10 courts down, your teammates screaming, you know their voices and you know what they sound like when they’re into a match. We’re hoping to have a lot of that down in Madison.”

“We (Wolfe and Hayes) both love the game, but it’s not do-or-die,” Hayes said. “The game doesn’t determine who we are, and we realize that. We have fun while we’re doing it.”

Senior-loaded, Rechek wants 2019 bolded in the Old Abe record books.

“Coach (Litscher) has never won a state championship or an individual state championship, and we’d all like to be the year he remembers as the time he did it,” Rechek said.

“I’d say that this team has been one of my favorites,” Litscher said. “They’re just a great group and they care about each other a lot.”

Here are the Old Abes heading to the state tournament:

Individual – Singles
-Sam Rechek
-Mark Pepperl
-Liam Obiad

Individual – Doubles
-Danylo Ripeckyj, Max Loen
-Will Hayes, Grant Wolfe
-Andrew Mueller, Stephen King

Memorial boys tennis' Sam Rechek talks to SportScene 13's Neil Hebert during an interview prior to their trip to the state tournament.
Memorial boys tennis' Mark Pepperl eyes up the ball before scoring a point in a match in May.
Memorial boys tennis' Will Hayes smiles after giving his doubles partner, Grant Wolfe, a high five after scoring a point.