By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent
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Faced with the toughest challenge of the tennis season, area teams begin play today when 32 sectionals across the state kickoff to decide who will advance into the three-day state tournament hosted by Hersey High School in Arlington Heights. The four venues which welcome teams in the area are among the best of the best, as the competition promises to provide more than enough tennis for fans of the sport over the next two days.
At Highland Park
When: 1 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday
Who to watch: Singles -- Geoff Butler (Carmel, 17-5, 3rd, ESCC), Stephen Feely (Carmel, 11-1), Ryan Jump (Mundelein, 5th, NSC), Jason Brown (Deerfield, 21-5), Toby Ma (Deerfield, 19-4), Tom Haile (Highland Park), and Danny Wynbrandt (Highland Park), Peter Tarwid (Lake Forest, 2nd, NSC, No. 1 singles), Cameron Bagheri (Lake Forest, 1st, NSC, No. 2 singles). Doubles -- Jake Springgate-Rokas Shkolnikov (Libertyville, 3rd, NSC), Chris Wilkinson-RJ Paulson (Carmel), David Zak-Zach Brint (Highland Park, 2010 state runners-up), Tyler Manci-Jason Hainsfurther (Highland Park, state qualifiers), Ben Shklyar-Alec Siegel (Deerfield, 11-4).
Storyline: The fortunes for Deerfield and Highland Park at the state tournament next week hinge on whether or not each club can advance all of its players -- no small task when you consider that a talented freshman from Lake Forest (Tarwid) and the doubles team from Libertyville (Springgate-Shkolnikov) can be a serious challengers to the fourth and final qualifying spots at their respective flights. Last season, Butler, and his brother Chris worked some late magic to earn a spot in the 64-man field, and this season, after the top three, it will be up for grabs. While HP head coach Steve Rudman continues to experiment with his final sectional doubles lineup, there's no doubt, regardless of what the Giants end up doing, that it will take a herculean effort to upset any team with Deerfield or Highland Park emblazoned on its team jackets.
At singles, the 2010 third-place medalist Brown is gaining speed and a likely 3-4 or 5-8 seed next week, while his teammate Ma -- who could be a No. 1 in most other programs -- runs a strong No. 2 here, and a likely 9-16 state seed. Butler and Jump cannot be overlooked, but the area duo will have to be in peak form in order to squash the hopes of Tarwid, who went 3-2 at the Pitchford.
When: 2 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday
Who to watch: Singles -- Isriz Balase (Schaumburg, 25-7, 2-time state qualifier), Varun Parekh (Barrington, 16-13), Ryan Kulpins (Rolling Meadows), Attilio Bonasera (Rolling Meadows, 2nd, MSL, No. 2 singles), Michael Sellitto (Glenbrook South), Sam Hoogland (Glenbrook South), Brian Levitas (Glenbrook North, 17-12). Doubles -- Ben Nuckles-George Coll (Barrington, 15-7, 1st, MSL), Takuma Ito-Peter Itskovich (Conant), Insu Park-Connor Sacks (Conant), Ben Adams-Greg Baker (Barrington, 17-5), Michael Levin- Konrad Ryba (Glenbrook South), Josh Sawyer-Bill Angel (Glenbrook North, 16-13), Tommy Snape-Michael Osher (Glenbrook North, 11-7).
Top seeds in order: Singles -- Sellitto, Hoogland, Levitas, Balase.
Doubles: Levin-Ryba (Glenbrook South), Nuckles-Coll (Barrington), Sawyer-Angel (Glenbrook North), Snape-Osher (Glenbrook North).
Storyline: Always a tough place to be with the likes of longtime Central Suburban tennis powers Glenbrook North and South on the guest list, another high profile program crashed the party this season when the IHSA moved Barrington from the Larkin sectional, where it dominated for years, further east to join many of its MSL rivals to ensure a battle royale for the top four spots. GBS junior Sellitto has made a successful transition to singles after back-to-back trips to the state tourney at doubles, and is the clear No. 1 in the field, just in front of freshman teammate Hoogland and returning state qualifiers Balase and Levitas, who cannot afford to misstep with Parekh, Kulpins and Bonasera, who are just a tick behind as the next three in line. The Broncos arrive with one of the best doubles teams in the area (Nuckles-Coll), who each gained plenty of experience last season at the state tournament, and will receive its biggest challenge for top honors from GBS' Levin-Ryba. Conant coach Amar Patel changed things up this week and bumped his top singles player Ito over to the No. 1 spot alongside Itskovich. Last season, Ito advanced to the tournament along with Brett Sacks, whose younger brother Connor earned third-place honors at the MSL tourney last weekend with his partner Park at No. 2 doubles. GBN's No. 1 defeated Pitchford champion Lyons in straight sets earlier, in what has been an up-and-down season for the Spartans duo.
When: 1 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday
Who to watch: Singles -- Jeremy Bush (Stevenson, 1st, NSC, 19-4), Matt Burkhardt (Fremd, 1st, MSL, 23-5), Ismail Kadyrov (Vernon Hills, 4th, NSC), Brian Kim (Stevenson, 19-8), Carson Burke (Prospect, 13-14). Doubles -- David Packowitz-Ross Putterman (Stevenson, 24-0, 1st, NSC), Andrew Komarov-Ryan Buxbaum (Stevenson, 1st, NSC, No. 2 doubles, 18-4), Nick Makowiecki-Maciej Niemcyzk (Fremd), Max Beylis-Ari Kazan (Buffalo Grove, 11-4), Robin Shin-Jake Wendell (Hersey, 14-11), David Alvaro-David Dobrik (Vernon Hills), Matt Werderitch-Mike Hamman (Prospect, 15-12).
Top 4 seeds in order: Singles -- Bush, Kadyrov, Burkhardt, Kim. Doubles -- Packowitz-Putterman (Stevenson), Makowiecki-Niemcyzk (Fremd), Beylis-Kazan (Buffalo Grove), Komarov-Buxbaum (Stevenson).
Storyline: Plenty of new faces at this venue this weekend, after the graduation of four-year star, and former state champion, Blake Bazarnik, now playing at Vanderbilt, and several other superb players, including the sixth-place state team from Fremd of Kenta Shiimizu and Ryan Kreis. Although the landscape has changed this season, the scenery is still filled with several players ready to bloom in the final weeks, starting with the top doubles team in the state (Packowitz-Putterman) and its mates at No. 2 (Komarov-Buxbaum), who look to hold off the charge of a bevy of contestants. After completing a successful run to individual titles at the MSL tournament at Nos. 2 and 3 singles, the Fremd duo of Makowiecki-Niemcyzk is ready to take a run at a top-four finish. So are a trio of others clubs from the MSL, while Buffalo Grove (Beylis-Kazan) earned themselves a 3-4 seed along with Komarov-Buxbaum, just ahead of Prospect and the No. 2 team from Fremd (Eric Rosencrans-Joe Cantieri), who competed at No. 1 for the Vikings last weekend at the MSL tourney. The Bison pair are in line to meet Fremd in their state qualifier match this afternoon. Over at singles, the Bush is the clear-cut favorite, while his teammate Kim shares the 3-4 seed with Fremd senior Burkhardt, who lost in straight sets to Bush at the 32. Youth will be served, with Vernon Hills supersoph Kadyrov and the freshman Burke vying for one of the last spots.
When: Friday and Saturday
Who to watch: Singles -- Mitch Granger (Grayslake Central, 1st, FVC, 30-1), Steven Kveton (Grayslake Central, 22-3), Kristiyan Trukov (Warren, 3rd, NSC, 22-9), Wesley Stoller (Warren, 3rd, NSC, No. 2 singles, 24-14), Nate Campanile (Grayslake North, 2nd FVC, 17-6, 2010 state qualifier). Doubles -- Nikola Trukov-Eric Seiler (Warren, 2nd, NSC, 33-4), Neel Desai-Matt Matheny (Warren, 19-12), Jack Lettenmair-Drew Carpenter (Grayslake Central, 3rd, FVC), Dave Robinson-Jake Romme (McHenry, FVC champs, 2010 state qualifiers).
Storyline: The spotlight will shine brightest on an impressive group at singles, where there's plenty of star power, but just four spots available for the lucky few. The headline act is Granger, who capped a superb regular season by capturing the FVC crown last week ahead of an impressive and deep bunch from the league, including his crosstown rival Campanile, whom he defeated in the final in straight sets. "Mitchell has had a tremendous season, but we all know it starts for real this weekend, and that anything can happen," said Central coach Chuck Lawson, who watched his club finish a memorable season of its own by winning the conference title after its dazzling 17-2 record in dual-meet competition. Lawson, and his FVC coaching counterparts, Jill Tomasello (Grayslake North) and Bryan Plinske (Lakes), all have anointed tourney host Warren as the favorite to win it all when the final match is in the score book Saturday afternoon.
"We're excited and really looking forward to this weekend, but I can tell you that (this) is not a tournament field to take lightly, and we certainly will not be doing so," says Warren coach Greg Cohen. "We have a deep and talented group at doubles, with our guys, along with the FVC champs from McHenry, and Johnsburg has half of its team back which qualified to state, and at singles, there's so many good No. 1 players, including Matt Schneider (Zion-Benton) and a couple of kids who are terrific No. 2 players (Kveton) and our guy Stoller, who will be right there in the thick of things."
One has to like the chances of the Blue Devils, who appear to be ready to advance both of their doubles teams through, as each are match tested against some of the best all throughout the spring season.