Despite leaving without a win in Saturday’s WIAA state tennis tournament in Eau Claire, the Verona High School girls team believes the experience is one it can build on.

Verona dropped its semifinal matchup with top-seeded Neenah, the eventual state runner-up, 7-0 Saturday, May 1 at the Menard YMCA Tennis Center.

“I thought we played really well,” coach Mark Happel said. “I think Neenah is the best team in the state. ... They’re just so strong all the way up and down their lineup. We’ve had a really good year and just ran into somebody better than us today.”

The Wildcats’ No. 3 doubles team of Erin and Annie Nick put up a fight in their first set, taking the match point through an extra five serves before dropping the set 7-6. Neenah’s Bradyn Gentile and Alise Van Dyke ended the match with a 6-0 win in set two.

Hannah Bertrand, Verona’s lone senior, lost in two sets (6-3, 6-3) to Nennah’s Meghan Stielow, and Zoe Qureshi, the Wildcats No. 3 player, lost 6-3, 6-2.

The team’s No. 2 duo of Andrea Chavez-Lazaro and Morgan Witkowski lost 6-0, 6-1.

Despite not earning a point, both Happel and his players say they can learn from the event.

“It’s been a dream,” Happel said of coaching the team. “These guys have been amazing, and the fact that nine of them are returning next year bodes well for the future.”

One of his players, Elsa Queoff, agreed after a two-set loss (6-0, 6-2) to Neenah’s Nora Paape.

“Even though I didn’t win, it was still just such a fun experience, a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” Queoff said.

And while she was happy Saturday, Queoff hopes to improve her game and help the team return to the tournament for the 2021 fall season.

“I’m just going to take this as a learning experience, and this is a great thing,” Queoff said. “So I just want to see if I can get to the same place or maybe even better next year.”

Not all of the Wildcats were experiencing the state tournament for the first time. Verona’s Samantha Breitbach – the team’s No. 1 player – and No. 1 doubles team Morgan Kreuser and Julia Huseth both competed in the individual tournament in April.

On Saturday, Breitbach lost to Neenah’s Ava Dunsirn (6-0, 6-0) and the doubles team also lost in two sets (6-0, 6-0).

Breitbach said the individual tournament helped her prepare for the team tournament, adding that seeing her teammates compete alongside her was a welcomed change.

“I thought we played really well. This is a tough team,” she said. “We’re here to have fun and we’re really proud of how far we made it. And even with the weird season, it was just super fun.”

With the team prepping for the fall season in just three months, Happel thinks the tennis community could get used to seeing this team have success.

“We’re very excited because the next match is less than three months away, but it just depends on hopefully they work hard over the summer,” he said. “It allows you as a coach to kind of pick up where you left off a little bit as far as match play and things knowing you know what they know. The future is really exciting.”

The players share their coach’s aspirations, Breitbach said.

“I’m super excited for next year,” she said. “We have nine returning varsity players, so I feel like next year our goal is to make it to state again and make it even farther if we can.”