In their first season competing, the Bryant and Stratton women's tennis team is sending two players to the NJCAA national tournament, which will be played in Arizona in May.
Both Desire Ahlberg and Val Kukuruzovic will compete in both singles and doubles competition at nationals. Playing in the Region 4 tournament over the weekend, they won the doubles title together while each player also won their respective singles tournament.
Both players were nothing short of dominant all season. As a doubles team, they went 9-0 and did not drop a set all season. In singles competition, Ahlberg went 9-0 and never lost a set. Kukuruzovic was also undefeated during the season going 10-0 and also never lost a set falling in just four games all season.
Getting two players to nationals following the remarkable seasons that they had is quite the accomplishment for a program in it's first season of competition.
"We've come a long way," head coach Scott Ficks said. "It's amazing that August 15th I met with my team in the board room in the Athletic department. I had never met them before. They didn't know anybody. And then (Saturday) night, we are celebrating championships. Pretty cool how the team has come together."
The path for both players to Bryant and Stratton has been unique. Ahlberg is from Sweden but spent a year as an exchange student during high school in Texas. She also spent time with family in Michigan and regularly worked out at a tennis club where Ficks' brother is the tennis director.
"She spent 3 months in there just showing up and hit in groups and classes," Ficks said. "(My brother) sent me a video from his phone of this girl from Sweden who was looking for a school. A few months later, she showed up in Milwaukee ready to go. It was just luck and good timing."
Kukuruzovic is from Serbia but moved to Wisconsin early in her high school career. She came to BSC from Greendale High School where she was a two-time State Tournament qualifier. Being a Wisconsin prep athlete, she proves that high school tennis players can stay home and find a high level of success.
"I don't see how this is anything but a positive for our program," Ficks said. "Now I have pictures and videos of my team getting trophies and winning championships showing what we have been able to do in a short time. I think we are going to be going to the national tournament for many years, which is not a bad thing to be able to tell a prospective recruit."
As a first-year program, the team did face it's fair share of adversity as they did not field a full-squad making them ineligible to qualify for the national tournament as a team. That's the next accomplishment on the checklist for Ficks.
"I told the McHenry coach, who won the whole team event, that I was jealous," he said. "Individual accolades are awesome and I am so happy for us and the girls but next year, we want the big trophy. I want to compete as a team to get everyone to the national tournament.
Ficks, Ahlberg and Kukuruzovic have plenty of time before the national tournament as it will not be held till May. Ficks is still putting together the plan to make sure both players are playing at their highest level for the tournament.
"We are going to take some time off and give them a week or two," he said. "Then we will get back to hitting balls and get them ready and really kick in to nationals practice in March."
As the Bobcat tennis program moves into it's second year and beyond, Ahlberg and Kukuruzovic will always have the legacy of being first players in program history to qualify for the national tournament.