Verona freshman Naisha Nagpal faced one of the biggest challenges of the season in the Round of 16 at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament against Manitowoc Lincoln’s Olivia Minikel.
Nagpal pulled out the first set 6-3 on Friday, Oct. 15, at Nielsen Tennis Stadium at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Minikel, who entered the state tournament unbeaten and had not lost a set and only had dropped three games, clipped Nagpal in three sets. After dropping the first set, Minikel rolled to a 6-2 win in the second set and pulled out a tiebreaker in the third set 7-6 (6).
“I’ve seen a lot of high school tennis matches,” Verona coach Mark Happel said. “It’s one of the best matches I have seen. At the end of the match, everyone’s eyes at Nielsen were watching it. Both played well enough to win. I couldn’t have been more proud of the way Naisha played composed with all of the pressure. Naisha didn’t lose that match. Olivia went out and made some big plays to win it.”
Minikel lost in the quarterfinals to top-seeded and eventual state champion Kaede Usui of Franklin 6-1, 6-2.
Nagpal finished the season 31-5 in her first season playing No. 1 singles for the Wildcats.
“What a dream season for her,” Happel said.
Middleton sophomore Netra Somasundaram finished fourth at No. 1 singles. She lost to Lake Geneva Badger senior Zaya Iderzul 6-2, 6-3 in a third-place match. Madison La Follette sophomore Annalise Yang took fifth overall.
Nagpal earned an eighth seed at state and a first-round bye. She defeated Madison West’s Grace Qian 6-1, 6-4 in a second-round match on Thursday, Oct. 14. After cruising by Qian, Nagpal was confident in reaching the Round of 16 at state.
“It feels great. I feel more and more pressure each time, but it’s alright because I’m getting closer each time to finals,” Nagpal said.
Nagpal won six straight games, including three to cruise to a victory in the first set. She jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set before Qian won a game.
Nagpal went through a rough stretch where she had a let on three straight first serves in the seventh game and Qian cut her lead to 4-3.
Nagpal then had two shots down the line that were wide and went out of bounds in the ninth game, but she remained in control with a 5-4 lead.
Nagpal said letting the West sophomore make mistakes was key.
“If I can hit winners, I will, but more consistency is better for beating Grace, is what I learned from playing her before,” she said.
Happel said it’s hard to beat someone who is a familiar opponent like Qian.
“She was patient when she needed to be and attacked when she had to,” Happel said of Nagpal. “She played fantastic in making it to the Round of 16. It’s a credit to her.”