As he handed the Badger North Conference championship plaque to DeForest coach Kristin Pachal on Saturday afternoon, Baraboo girls tennis coach Karll Kruse made a statement:
“There has been a changing of the guard in the Badger Conference,” he proclaimed.
The action inside a hot and sticky Nielsen Tennis Stadium proved that true in more ways than one.
“I’ve been coaching 13 years and I’ve seen a lot of good tennis, but right now the Badger Conference is at a high point,” said Pachal, whose Norskies won for the second time overall and first since 2007.
The Norskies sent a freshman, two sophomores and a junior into the four singles championship matches and went 2-2 to lock up a one-point tournament victory over Badger South champion Madison Edgewood.
While DeForest celebrated a victory in the Badger tournament and the overall Badger North title, the Norskies weren’t the only ones with gold medals at the end of the two-day, 15-team event.
Perhaps the player who made the biggest statement of all on Saturday was Madison Edgewood freshman Baluck Deang, a 5-foot-11 overflowing cup of potential who showed signs that her skills, along with her mental approach, are beginning to mature.
Deang — who recently turned 15 — switched on her considerable power midway through the first set of the No. 1 singles final against DeForest sophomore Cecile Fuchs. And that was that, as Deang won nine of the next 10 games to complete a 6-2, 6-1 victory.
“Once I found my strike zone, I started hitting with more power,” said Deang, who is now 25-4 on the season. “(And) once I started calming down and focusing better, it went really well.”
The top-seeded Fuchs (31-2), who stands 10 inches shorter than Deang, still was able to stay within 3-2 during the first set — behind smart play and a compact swing that delivered strong and steady ground strokes.
“(Cecile) played a good match,” DeForest’s Pachal said. “It’s just that Baluck was playing out of her mind.”
By the end of the match, Fuchs could only stand and watch as Deang’s rocket shots zinged impossibly out of reach.
“I was just trying to get (my bearings) back, but it was too much,” said Fuchs, whose sister, freshman Samantha, won the No. 2 singles title.
“I’ve seen Baluck progress through her whole freshman year, and today I saw her hit smarter shots, harder shots, more confident shots,” first-year Edgewood coach Alex Mory said.
“She did the same thing in the semifinal (a 7-5, 6-0 win over Beaver Dam sophomore Morgan Nelson,” Mory said. “She was down 5-4, and then she reeled off nine in a row.
“Baluck was feeling out her opponent at the start, but after I had a talk with her (at 3-2 in the first set of the final), she turned on the switch,” Mory said. “She was precise and smart when she needed to be, and she was aggressive when she needed to be.
“When Baluck is in the zone like this, it gets to a point where the other player says: ‘You’re on fire. How am I supposed to respond to that?’”
In other singles finals, DeForest sophomore Leah Miller won at No. 3 and Norskies junior Leah Williams fell in the No. 4 final to Waunakee’s Courtney Pagnucci, 6-1, 6-1.
Deang’s victory helped Edgewood finish second in the tournament and earn a tie with Monona Grove for the overall Badger South title, which includes conference dual meets and the tournament.
Monona Grove got another big day from its No. 1 doubles combo of senior Amanda Newman and sophomore Hailey Munz. Improving to 24-0, the combo lost only one game in three matches.
Newman and Munz handled Watertown senior Celeste Bayer and junior Jamie Koepp in the final, 6-1, 6-1.
Monona Grove’s No. 2 doubles pair of senior Sara Paulson and sophomore Jewel Lindwall defeated senior Paige Halverson and sophomore Karlie Halverson of Stoughton in a three-set final, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Edgewood sophomore Lizzie Drake and freshman Sarah Dunn won the No. 3 doubles title, beating Watertown senior Katie Linskens and freshman Sydney Linskens, 6-4, 6-2.