DSHA junior Molly Jex (second from left) and freshman Lizzie Stuckslager (second from right) teamed up to win the WIAA Division 1 doubles championship. Also pictured are head coach Melissa Gebhardt (left) and assistant coach Brooke Skemp (right). (Submitted photo)
Molly Jex and Lizzie Stuckslager have a request for DSHA girls tennis coach Melissa Gebhardt.
They would like to try to do it again.
“It” being defend the WIAA Division 1 state doubles title they won Oct. 15 at Madison’s Nielsen Stadium by defeating Cedarburg’s Zoe Larson and Carly O’Leary 6-2, 6-0 in the championship match.
“I hope we can stay together next year,” said Jex, a junior who was playing in her second individual state tournament. “It all comes down to (Gebhardt) but personally I hope we do.”
As state champions, they have some clout in making their case.
“I would obviously love to keep them together again for next year,” Gebhardt said. “Our graduating seniors played (second and third doubles), so it will be a good possibility that they could play with each other again. Of course, we will put them in the best position on the team to get to team state.”
Their two toughest battles in their path to the state championship came earlier in the bracket in the form of two different teams from northeast Wisconsin.
In the semifinals, Jex and Stuckslager defeated the top-seeded team from De Pere — Ana Cristescu and Sophia Fergus — by a score of 7-5, 6-3.
“I think coming off that big win against the first seed really was a big push into the final match,” Stuckslager said. “Pulling out that first set was a huge point in that match.”
In the state tournament’s third round, the team from Green Bay Southwest — 13th-seeded Julia Tackmier and Allison Roever — played the DSHA duo tough before falling 7-5, 6-4.
Going into the state tournament, Jex and Stuckslager were seeded fourth overall, receiving a first-round bye. None of the three teams that combined for DSHA’s four losses were in their path at the state tournament. Jex and Stuckslager, who finished 27-4, lost to the third-seeded pair from Nicolet twice on third-set tiebreakers (and beat them once) and to second-seeded Arrowhead (in their first match together in August, but both of those teams were eliminated at state before they could run into DSHA.
The other team that beat Jex and Stuckslager was from Brookfield East, when their top two singles players paired up in doubles due to an injury. It was the only doubles match those two played all season.
“It was always the goal and the possibility to win individual state,” Gebhardt said. “We felt it was up for grabs for any of the top seeds. They did not have to avenge any of their defeats, but really wanted another shot against Arrowhead.”
Jex and Stuckslager had played tennis together when they were younger, but kind of lost touch when Jex went off to middle school.
When Jex found out Stuckslager was coming to DSHA, they had a conversation about teaming up. Stuckslager said she was honored to be asked.
“They were a duo that myself and my assistant coach, Brooke Skemp, knew was a good possibility,” Gebhardt said. “We needed to find Molly a new partner (after her 2021 partner graduated) and Lizzie was a top candidate.”
Gebhardt said Stuckslager’s ground strokes would complement Jex’s game and set up Jex to score at the net.
“I knew about Lizzie, because I know her mother and father, who were both decorated high school players themselves,” Gebhardt said. “I knew Lizzie would be an elite player (who) would enhance our already deep team. We saw her play for the first time at our five summer contact days and knew we had something special. What an incredible freshman debut.”
Both members of the team play other sports, which they said helped make their tennis games stronger. Jex plays goalie in hockey and said it helped her lateral movement and hand-eye coordination. Stuckslager has also played volleyball and basketball, in addition to playing tennis from a young age.
If they do get their wish and are able to run it back in 2023, they know they will be in the sights of a lot of teams around the state.
“We’ve kind of thought about it,” Jex said. “If we play next season, it could be a little more stressful because you have to live up to who you were last season.”