The Catholic Memorial boys tennis team won its first WIAA state team championship with a 4-3 victory over Brookfield Academy at Sports Core in Kohler. (Submitted photo)

By the latter stages of his No. 2 singles match against Brookfield Academy’s Taytem Matthews in the championship match of the WIAA State Team Tennis Tournament in Kohler, Catholic Memorial freshman Hayden Latus knew his team’s hopes rested on his shoulders.

The match was tied with three wins for each team and, when Latus ended up winning 6-2, 7-5, the Crusaders had clinched the state championship, their first in WIAA competition.

Catholic Memorial finished its state championship season with an 18-4 record.

“It was such a closely contested affair,” said Catholic Memorial co-coach Chris Benyouskey. “You don’t always see it when the stakes are the highest, but, up and down the lineup, our guys brought their A game. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our play. And really, the depth of our team was a huge factor in our success throughout the entire year.”

In addition to Latus’ victory at No. 2 singles, the Crusaders got wins at No. 3 singles (Ethan Szada, 6-2, 6-3, over Vibhu Guda), No. 4 singles (Matthew Ramthun, 6-4, 6-2, over Michael Boucher) and No. 2 doubles (Ian Horder and Trent Adamson by a 6-1, 6-2 count).

In the semifinals earlier in the day, the Crusaders won 7-0 over La Crosse Aquinas, getting victories from Jack McCaffery, Latus, Szada and Ramthun in singles, and the pairings of Chase Korb/Nate Carsen, Horder/Adamson and George Beres/Finn Fox in doubles play. The Crusaders were so dominant in singles play, they lost just seven games in eight sets, including two 6-0 sets.

In 2019, the Crusaders made a run to the state semifinals and thought they had a team that could gun for a title in 2020. However, the pandemic wiped out the season.

Coming into this season, McCaffery was the only player back from the 2019 team.

“We naturally thought this season would be a year to reset and develop the new crop of players,” said Benyouskey. “Although, I think our guys got tired of us referring to the season as a ‘rebuilding’ year.”

More like reloading.

“Early in the season, we performed really well against some of the stronger teams in the state,” Benyouskey said. “The confidence we gained from those matches really propelled us. I also think that Jack McCaffery really anchored our team in a number of important ways. From the outset, he set the tone for the guys by showing them how the players in our program approach their business on the court. Jack was a spark plug for us.”

The Crusaders were helped this season by some members of the Class of 2020 who practiced with this year’s team throughout the spring.

“This was a special group of guys and certainly a season we will all look back on fondly for years to come,” Benyouskey said.