When Elijah Schimelpfenig begins his studies at Harvard University this fall, he plans to study comparative literature with an eye on one day becoming a novelist.
For the moment, the Sun Prairie senior and sophomore teammate Josh Baldwin hope to write a compelling ending to their only season together as doubles partners for the Cardinals’ boys tennis team.
Schimelpfenig and Baldwin enter the highly competitive Big Eight Conference tournament Wednesday and Thursday at Nielsen Tennis Stadium coming off a significant victory at No. 1 doubles against Milwaukee Marquette on Saturday.
Schimelpfenig reached the WIAA Division 1 state tournament the past two seasons playing with Andrew Olson, including winning two matches at state last year as the No. 15 seed. Baldwin reached state in singles as a freshman last year, and Schimelpfenig suggested the two should become a doubles duo.
“This is my senior year and I thought we could do something special,” Schimelpfenig said.
Baldwin initially was hesitant because he’d primarily played singles. But conversations between the two players and new Sun Prairie coach Ryan Reischel, a strong doubles teacher, and an analysis of the team’s lineup led to pairing Schimelpfenig and Baldwin at No. 1 doubles and seniors Olson and Taran Katta at No. 2 doubles.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for us to play together,” Baldwin said.
“Why not give two guys who wanted to play doubles together that opportunity to, hey, have a really fun experience and probably have the ability to do some damage at the state tournament,” said Reischel, formerly the longtime Stoughton boys and girls tennis coach. “That would be really cool to see people make it as far as possible. The way they are playing I think they can make it pretty far.”
Reischel is pleased with the duo’s progress after an early-season loss to Middleton’s Rafael Sanga and Sam Dettman – the only defeat for Schimelfenig and Baldwin.
“At first, we didn’t really mesh,” Schimelpfenig said. “We didn’t know how the other played doubles. … I think things are starting to come together more.”
Baldwin, a baseline player in singles, had to get accustomed to playing at the net. Baldwin also had to learn the different aggression needed in doubles, Schimelpfenig said.
“It took a while to get used to each other,” Baldwin said. “I’ve never played high school doubles before. It was an adjustment from singles. At this point, I feel I have gotten used to it and we are clicking better than at the beginning.”
They are clicking well enough that they are one of the Big Eight’s top doubles teams and likely will be seeded at the state tournament.
Eighth-ranked Verona enters the Big Eight meet as the conference dual meet champion, but figures to face stiff competition from sixth-ranked Middleton, 10th-ranked Sun Prairie, 11th-ranked Madison West and 12th-ranked Madison Memorial.
“It’s going to be really, really fun,” Reischel said. “I think it’s a wide-open field. … Everyone is playing their best tennis right now. The Big Eight is known for its good, quality tennis. But having five teams you could pull out of a hat to find the winner will make it probably the best tournament in a long time. I’m excited for that.”
Verona’s Will Tennison, Madison Memorial’s Colt Tegtmeier, Middleton’s Ryan Gold and Sun Prairie junior Aidan Schutter lead a stacked No. 1 singles competition. Tennison defeated Tegtmeier in last year’s conference final, leading Verona to the team title by one point over Sun Prairie.
“It’s going to be a bloodbath,” Schutter said. “At No. 1 singles and with the teams, it’s like we’re going around in circles. There are five teams that could win this. So, it’s awesome to see. It’s tough to play, but it’s fun. It will be really good whoever wins. It will be like last year where a point or so will decide it.”
Schutter, who won two state matches last year as the 10th seed, started this season slowly following a bout with mononucleosis and while enduring the spring’s inclement weather.
“It was a tough start to the season because we didn’t get to play much,” Schutter said. “Over the last two weeks, I’ve started feeling really good. I feel like I’m ready to go. Given one more week, I’m going to come out firing.”