It’s not tennis or bust for Grace Olson, but the Madison Memorial senior is more than determined to lead her team to another state berth this fall.
Coming off of its best season since 2005, the Spartans' girls tennis program qualified two singles players, including Olson, and a doubles pair for the WIAA Division 1 state individual tournament.
Memorial also qualified for the state team tournament for the second time in program history, upsetting third-seeded Eau Claire Memorial in the first round before losing to second-seeded Milwaukee Divine Savior Holy Angels in a semifinal.
Olson, the No. 1 singles player for Memorial, was seeded fourth going into individual state tournament play and was the only area athlete to make it to the quarterfinals. After team tournament action, she finished with a 27-5 record and first-team All-Big Eight honors.
This was Olson's third time competing at Nielsen Tennis Stadium, but the first time competing at No. 1 singles.
“Last season was really great," Olson said. "It was definitely my best high school season, and the most confident I’d ever felt playing tennis.”
Julia Zhou, the No. 2 singles player for Memorial and senior co-captain with Grace, also shared in the excitement of competing at individual and team state last year and is hungry for more.
“There is some pressure, but because we experienced it last year, we’re more motivated to experience it again,” Zhou said.
Last year also marked the first time in program history that Memorial won a Big Eight Conference dual-meet title. All four singles players — Olson, Zhou, Nikita Remesh and Jessica Jiang — combined to go 32-0 in Big Eight duals.
“It’s a big moment for the program overall," Olson said. "Coming into my freshman year, we were always third or fourth in the conference. But being able to see the growth and having those young players improve made our team into something special last year.”
The Spartans’ storied season was led by coach Joe King, who earned the Wisconsin High School Tennis Association’s Coach of the Year award.
“To be recognized by all coaches across the state is a big honor," King said. "It wouldn’t have happened without all of the efforts from the girls in the offseason and during the season.
“We have a wonderful coaching staff at Memorial, and it’s a big honor for our program and tribute to what we were able to accomplish over the course of the year.”
King has been part of the Memorial program since 1999 and is entering his 12th year as head coach. He prides his program on sportsmanship and winning the right way. Over the years, he’s seen Olson take on a leadership role that she has earned and grown into.
“Grace is very comfortable in that role as someone that everyone looks up to," he said. "She definitely wants to be in that position, as she likes to be the one at the top of the lineup playing against the best that other teams offer.”
Said Zhou: “We always know she’s always engaged in the team because she’s very invested. Grace has a strong sense of responsibility for the team; she puts the team before herself. She’s always trying her hardest during her matches, more for the team than for herself.”
Even being at the top of her game, Olson also has other interests such as soccer, spending time with friends and family, and going on mission trips through her church. And as high-pressured as tennis can get, she says she has learned how to keep her composure and put things into perspective.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a game, it’s just a sport. It’s not life or death,” Olson said. “But the beautiful thing about sports is that you can train and make something of yourself.
“I just know I’ll be able to look back and think about it (tennis). It taught me a lot of life lessons, like patience and leadership. Those are lessons I couldn’t have learned anywhere else.”