Fickle spring weather smiles on Highlanders track, Nicolet Sweet 16 tennis meets

Organizers work hard to get events in

May 8, 2012

Every year around the first week of May, Nicolet boys tennis coach Tim Koppa and Homestead girls track coach John Krueger start looking at the long-term weather forecasts with a bit more interest.

But for the weather-dependent spring sports veterans, there's a lot more at stake than just getting this particular invitational or that particular dual meet in.

No, these two start fretting and losing sleep, and they make extra phone calls, send last-minute text messages and they start to view every stray cloud with a distinctly evil eye.

That's because usually on the same weekend every spring, they are desperately trying to make their signature events of the season come off without a hitch. Koppa brings in 16 of the best tennis teams in the state for the dual slugfest that is the Nicolet Sweet 16 Invitational, while teams come from all over the state to take part in Homestead's annual salute to girls track excellence.

Important meets

And in the past, the weather gods have not always been so kind to the pair. The Sweet 16 has occasionally had whole days washed out, or the back draw just forgotten as the day got long and darkness settled in.

"Sometimes I wonder why I do it," said Koppa, who puts on a similar event in the fall during the girls season, "but it's just a great way to get all the teams together."

And like Jackie Egelhoff, the coach of team champion Homestead said: "We don't have to get the kids up for this one. They know how important it is."

And the track meet has hardly been immune either, as for every 70 degree and sunny day there's been for the 20-plus year old event, there's been about three 45-degree days with an east wind off Lake Michigan.

"Still, we try to make it a highly competitive meet, make it representative with different teams coming in from around the state," Krueger said. "We know budgets are getting tighter and schools are trying to cut back on travel costs, so we appreciate everyone who comes up here."

Last weekend, the weather gods were in an indifferent mood toward the area. They didn't exactly bless the spring sports aficionados with brilliant sunshine, nor did they drown them in rain either as temperatures hovered in the low 50s with a cool breeze. The first day of the Sweet 16 went off without a hitch on Friday, with everybody getting in their requisite two dual meets and Koppa grateful that all five sites he set up were able to host.

But overnight rains Friday into Saturday did provide Krueger with a unique problem.

"The thing is, with this meet, I do get a lot of help and I get offers for a lot more," he said, "but like everyone else who does this kind of work, I sort of want to do things in a certain way, and sometimes I just can't answer certain questions from people even though I have a (check) list of things to be done.

"Sometimes I get here before 8 a.m. and everything is all done (and ready to go), but this year I get there, and I look at the long jump and triple jump pits and they're both completely under water."

So Krueger, with some help, had to dig holes into the pits so the water could collect easily and then he carried out about 100 gallons of water out of the two pits so they could be usable.

After that, it became easy. A light mist threatened for a moment or two around 10 a.m. but then vanished.

"We had the coaches meeting at 9:30 a.m. and then off we went," Krueger said.

Koppa's second day went just about as smoothly. He was working with Whitefish Bay, University School, Homestead and Grafton courts, and was exceptionally grateful to the folks over at Milwaukee County Club for making some courts available.

"We got fortunate that the Milwaukee County Club was nice enough and trusted us enough to let us play there," Koppa said. "It all worked out."

Still, that east wind for the championship finals at Nicolet between Marquette and Homestead made things a little interesting.

"It was cool and windy, but hey, we were just happy to be out there playing," said 2010 state singles champ Alex Jesse of Homestead, who beat 2011 state singles champion Damon Niquet to key Homestead's 4-3 victory over the defending state champion Hilltoppers.

Seeing old friends

Krueger said his whole day was special.

He had brought in kids from Steffen Middle School where he teaches and they were a big help trundling warm-up clothes in baskets from site to site where the athletes could get to them easily. He also got to see his old friends from Menomonee Falls, where he used to teach years ago, win the meet.

Furthermore, a Special Olympics component was included in the event and the bi-county group from Falls came in with a large contingent, including someone Krueger used to teach all those years ago.

"He was happy to see me and told me they were going to come back next year and bring even more kids," a happy Krueger said.

"There are always little things we look at when we go to an invitational," Krueger added. "Heather (his wife and assistant coach) and I come back from a meet and say 'We liked the way they did this' or 'What they did with that was really cool.'

"So you work hard and try to make sure that when people leave they feel the same way about your event."

And in the process, you hope that they come back next year and bring some good weather with them.

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