Bartlett sophomore Jen Gates really likes tennis.
Check that. She really loves tennis.
"I love it so much," she says. "I love the competitiveness. It's so much fun being out there and knowing every day after I'm done playing that I worked on something."
Gates ended up working on plenty of things during this past off-season. In addition to playing in three national youth tournaments, she also spent six hours a day training with her off-season coach Ernesto Faisal. She works out in the winter at the Hinsdale Racquet Club.
"I really improved my serves and my speed and agility," Gates notes. "My serves are more accurate now. If I miss, it's not as much into the net. I worked on being more offensive-minded this summer and worked on getting quicker."
Gates is hopeful that work will translate into even greater results during her sophomore campaign at Bartlett. Gates had an impressive debut at Bartlett last fall, going 26-5, winning a conference title at No. 1 singles and advancing all the way into the seventh round of the consolation bracket of the state tournament. Gates went 5-2 at state.
"The main thing is I have become more consistent," she says. "Last year I had some days where I was down and I had to work through it. I was definitely up and down."
Getting that consistency to the level she would like it involved making changes to her mental approach.
"The mental aspect of my game is a lot stronger," she says. "I've become stronger in a lot of areas."
Gates notes last year's success has only added more fuel to her competitive fire.
"It definitely made me work a lot harder," she states. "I love it so much. I have a lot of motivation. I kind of took it as I went last year. When I found out I finished in the 13-16 bracket at state, that was exciting for me. My goal is to definitely try and go father than I did last year. We'll see if it happens."
Bartlett coach Sue Hannula has seen Gates' enthusiasm firsthand.
"Her work ethic and joy of the game are big strengths for her not to mention her pounding ground strokes and her bombing serves," Hannula says.
Gates, who is ranked 35th in the Chicago area in the 16s division by USTA and is in the top 150 nationally at the same age level, is equally excited about the team's prospects this season.
Bartlett won its first two dual matches by a combined 12-2 count and also won the Jacobs tournament. A key addition to the team is Elgin transfer and two-time state-qualifier Jitsupa (Jacey) Sirinit, who attended Elgin's academic academy her first two years and has returned back to her hometown high school.
"The team is going to be great this year," Gates says. "Jacey is a great addition to the team. Everybody has been working hard. It's so amazing to see."
Bartlett has 7 seniors in the lineup.
"This is the year for us to excel," Hannula says.
Bartlett's doubles division is experience-laden with the teams of seniors Katie Gates and Kaylen Kress (No. 1), senior Jen Parato and sophomore Gabby Gregorio (No. 2), senior Mary Jo Baubkus and junior Alicja Ligas (No. 3). Seniors Brianna Bedi, Eram Haider and Lynn Noel are the running for the No. 4 doubles position and the No. 3 singles position.
Gregorio and Katie Gates qualified for state in doubles last year.
"It was a tough decision to split these two up, but it makes the team stronger," says Hannula of Gregorio and Katie Gates. "I've never had a No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams that are so close in strength to one another."
Hannula is looking forward to a strong season.
"We are in a tough conference," she says. "Neuqua Valley is still the top school to beat. Waubonsie Valley is always strong. Batavia is very tough. We feel we can compete with anybody this year. The girls have worked hard and have improved vastly from last year. It will truly be a season to watch. I expect great things from this group of girls."
Elsewhere around the Upstate Eight, South Elgin returns its No. 1 singles player in junior Nikha Phengsavath along with its No. 1 doubles team of seniors Abbey Garnett and Mary Hall. No. 3 singles player Alex Graff (senior) and doubles players Jessica Keller (junior) and Lizzy Marchosky (senior) return, as does senior Tessa Hanlon. Youngsters Fiona McCullough (freshman) and Beth Weaver (sophomore) will contribute in singles an doubles (McCullough).
"We have a lot of depth this year," South Elgin coach Melissa Tuftedal says. "A lot of girls can play both singles and doubles. With the combination of having both veteran players and newcomers working together, we should have a great season and do well."
Larkin returns sophomore No. 1 singles player Meryl Hansana, along with the senior No. 1 doubles team of Shelby Matison and Natalie Judkins. Larkin's No. 2 doubles (senior Aida Delafuente and junior Ellie Weber) and No. 3 doubles (senior Danielle Bauer and sophomore Megan Sunthorn) teams also return with varsity experience.
"Our strength is in our attitude and desire to improve," Larkin coach Bob Young states. "Our focus is on getting better every time that we have the opportunity to be on the tennis court with the aim of playing our best tennis at the end of the season."
Streamwood coach Miriam Abe has a youthful team this season. Senior Suri Jimenez (No. 1 singles) is the lone varsity returner for the Sabres. Freshman Samantha Lee (No. 2 singles) is showing promise.
"The girls will gain experience this year," Abe says. "The good thing is we will be able to prepare a good team for the following years."
Fox Valley Conference
The Fox Valley Conference has split into two divisions for tennis. All local teams are paired in the FVC Valley Division, which is stacked with quality teams and individuals.
Cary-Grove returns the majority of its lineup from a squad that went 15-6 and 8-4 in conference play. Singles players Amanda Dorsey and Kaitlin Kownick are back, along with the doubles combos of Arley Bayer-Beth Hughes (No. 1), Becky King-Jessica McKune (No. 2) and Emily Scott-Jeni Maki (No. 4). Sophomores Macy Koepke and Alyssa Derer have cracked the lineup at No. 3 doubles. Bridget Dorsey is at No. 3 singles.
Amanda Dorsey and the doubles team of Bayer and Hughes made the state tournament last year.
"We have a talented squad that plays nice and steady," Trojans coach Bud Lachel says. "We're optimistic this year."
This will be Lachel's final season at the helm. He will retire after coaching the girls for 38 years. He has already retired from his boys coaching position (where he was at the helm for 43 years).
"Winning a conference or a sectional title has always been my dream," said Lachel. "We've always been a top 3 or 4 team in the conference. To finish as a conference or sectional champion would be a great way to go out."
Crystal Lake South also is full of talented players. Veteran coach Don Nead's team started out 2-0 in duals and won the Schaumburg tournament.
Junior Marisa Thome (No. 1 singles) and junior No. 1 doubles player Rachel Siemon are both returning state qualifiers. Siemon's partner, sophomore Kelsey Laktash, junior Kim Goodwin (No. 3 singles) and sophomore Julia Thome (No. 2 singles) also return, as do seniors Heather Roesslein and Emily Olszak. Juniors Becca Kolarczyk and Caitlin Theros and sophomores Rachel Rasmussen and Jacqueline Borrom are key newcomers. Nead has 66 girls in the program this season.
"We have some pretty good depth," Nead says. "Our, 2, 3 and 4 doubles can beat each other on any given day and we have other teams that are pressing them."
Nead sees a competitive FVC Valley Division.
"There is a lot of parity in the conference," he says. "I don't see a runaway year for anybody this year. I think we will be competitive. I don't know where we will end up. We will challenge others and others will challenge us."
Jacobs is a team numerous area coaches have mentioned is worth keeping an eye on. The Golden Eagles took second in the conference last year and return the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Marcilyn Rowan and Lauren Steinkamp that won a sectional title and took third in the league last year. The No. 2 doubles team of Autumn Hackett and Kassy Bernardo is back as well. They finished second at the sectional and also qualified for state. Senior Anna Taylor (No. 3 doubles) and juniors Megan Elliott and Alina Zabolotico also are back.
Senior Jess Wolf, juniors Emily Alessio, Jacquelyn Hengler, Jen Regard and Miranda Curtis and sophomore Rachael Buttolph also will help.
"Our team's success is due, in no small part, to our tremendous depth," says Jacobs coach Jon Betts, whose team started the 2011 season 15-1 (only loss to Crystal Lake South). "With the strong senior leadership and key contributions from younger players, I believe that we have the ability to be very successful this season."
Dundee-Crown features a junior-dominated team. Junior Cassie McElroy moves up to No. 1 singles, while senior Amanda Schuessler will team up with junior Sahar Alam at No. 1 doubles. Senior Ariel Annis and junior Ali Danhoff are at No. 2 doubles. Junior Kelsey Simpson is at No. 2 singles.
"We have a hardworking group that has jelled well this year as a team," D-C coach Janet Malecek says. "I expect constant improvement."
Huntley returns the majority of its top lineup tier including Kayla Garcia (No. 1 singles), Brooke Romero (No. 1 doubles), Ally Pietrusiak (No. 1 doubles), Kelly Frankel (No. 2 doubles), Sam Czarnota (No. 2 doubles) and Natalie Janelli (No. 3 doubles). Jessica Chalas (No. 2 singles) and Lexi Nichols (No. 3 doubles) are key newcomers.
"We have young talent and good senior leadership," Huntley coach Barry Wells states. "The girls work hard and have great attitudes."
Over in the Fox Division, FVC newcomer Hampshire returns a host of players headlined by senior No. 1 doubles player Kendall Walker, who was state qualifier last year. Seniors Stacy Krach (No. 2 doubles, No. 3 singles), Meghan Showalter (No. 2 doubles) and Stephanie Lumino (No. 1 doubles, No. 3 singles) are back along with sophomore Monica Patthana (No. 1-2 singles, No. 1 doubles). Freshman Julie Schreiner (No. 1-2 singles) and junior Sydney Zilch (No. 3 doubles) are new faces that will help the Whips.
"The strength of our team is our senior leaders," Hampshire coach Aaron Holmer says. "They have been in the program for multiple years and help the coaches on a daily basis to run portions of the practices and make other important team decisions. They are also responsible for setting an example we expect our younger players to follow."
Holmer notes the team has doubled in size over the past two years.
"Many of our players are new to the game of tennis and have shown a great deal of growth in a short amount of time," he says.
Elgin Academy is coming off a school-record 15-8 performance in 2010. Senior Lauren Ficken, juniors Sedona Georgescu and Jordan Kaufman, along with sophomores Makena Barickman, Sofia Skok, Molly Willman and Jordan Yavari are also back. Yavari set a school record for wins at No. 2 singles last year and has moved up to the No. 1 position this year. Kaufman and Ficken set the school doubles record for season wins at No. 2. They will play at No. 1 doubles this year. Georgescu and Skok move up to No. 2 doubles, while Barickman and Willman will play No. 3 doubles. Freshman Kayla Schwan is at No. 2 singles.
"We have good depth and returning, successful players," Elgin Academy coach Greg Repede says. "The key will be how well they play against tougher competition because everyone is moving up."