Batavia looks to repeat as the girls tennis champion of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division this weekend. Among the squad's leaders is senior Kaitlin Mills.
A co-captain along with her No. 1 doubles partner Hannah Potter, Mills is in her third straight year as a No. 1 doubles player after debuting at No. 3 doubles as a freshman. The 5-foot-7 Mills is a Memphis native who moved to Cincinnati and then to Batavia in 2006.
A two-time all-conference tennis player, Kaitlin picked up the sport at 11 but didn't become serious at it until a few years later, when she abandoned volleyball due to the conflicting seasons. She's since attended camps in Hilton Head, S.C., won several local tournaments as a singles player and is currently ranked No. 37 among Illinois girls in the Class of 2012 by the Tennis Recruiting Network.
An honor roll student with a 3.96 grade-point average, in college she looks forward to studying biomedical engineering with an eye toward medical school. Wherever she goes as an undergrad, she'll likely continue to play tennis.
Q: What are your top skills on the court?
A: I feel like my serve has gotten a lot better than it was in the past. I think it's just gotten a lot more consistent; it's just from playing a lot. I used to not play much, and just by playing a few more times a week, more tournaments, more lessons, it really bumped me up.
Q: What is it about your serve?
A: I have more power on the serve, and I've been able to keep it pretty consistent, for the most part.
Q: What do you need to work on?
A: My backhand hasn't been too great. I feel like my net game's not really where I want it yet. It's improved a lot, but I still have some ways to go.
Q: How does doubles tennis vary from singles?
A: I really notice going back to doubles from singles I have to move a lot more in singles. Also I think it's so much more fun because you have someone else out there to talk to and to pump you up. It's great, I think, to have someone there to pump you up when you're missing shots.
Q: How's your relationship with your doubles partner, Hannah?
A: She's my best friend. We've been best friends a long time. We went to Ghana together over spring break with a group from our school. We've played a lot, and I've played with her since freshman-year tennis. We've gotten real close.
Q: What was the Ghana trip for?
A: It was just the most amazing experience, and I loved it. We went with a group from my school, and we helped build a school for two days, and two days we helped out in a classroom and did a field day for the kids. We were there for 10 days and the other days we did a little bit of sightseeing and touristy stuff. But it was amazing. The people were so friendly and welcoming.
Q: What's your on-court chatter like between you and Hannah?
A: If it's a real intense match we'll usually just keep to tennis. But if we're having a lot of fun and it's not so super-serious we'll talk about a lot of things. We do a lot of stuff together, so we talk about a lot of things together out on the court.
Q: How about an example of something nutty?
A: There's always geese flying by the Batavia tennis court, and every time they fly by they find some way to poop on me. Last week they flew by and I got a little worried, so I ran to the fence and they pooped right where I was standing before. Last Sunday we played on the court and they pooped on my bag. It was so gross.
Q: Did you go to the Batavia-Geneva football game?
A: I didn't go. We had a match on Friday, but then it started raining and we didn't really call it off that early. We kind of got out late, someone told me (the football game) was sold out, so we didn't get there. But somebody told me it was pretty awesome.
Q: Would you have stormed the field afterward?
A: I probably would have, yeah.
Q: What's something most people don't know about you?
A: I really like to dance goofy and sing really loud, but I'm not really good at either one of them. I only do it around close friends, and sometimes the tennis team.
Q: Who are your favorite tennis players?
A: Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick. And the Bryan brothers (Bob and Mike), the American doubles team.
Q: How does it feel when you connect solidly with the ball?
A: Sometimes I just block out the physical part of it. It's probably bad, because then I don't remember how to do it again. But usually I get really excited and it'll pump me up -- and hopefully it'll pump me up to hit another one, and hopefully I'll win the point.
Q: We hear about young athletes getting "burned out." You don't sound like it.
A: I was never really super-pressured into it, and I didn't start early. I don't feel like I've played nearly as much as I'm going to, or want to. I'm still ready to play.
Q: How will you remember your high school career?
A: It was always pretty fun. Great times, great memories with the tennis team, and just a great high school career overall. I'm happy with the way I played.
Chargers break drought
On Tuesday at Phillips Park in Aurora, Aurora Central Catholic won a boys regional golf title for the first time since 1985.
Chargers Justin Prince (79), Sean Harreld (80) and Jack McNalley (81) filled the second-through-fourth positions in the scoring with Ryan Baker (87) also representing ACC.
Coach Jim Parker's Chargers, along with runner-up Aurora Christian, head to Monday's Class 1A sectional at Freeport Aquin to attempt to claim their first sectional championship also since 1985.
Hitmen start slowly
A little over a month ago players from the Chicago Hitmen hockey team, a North American Hockey League Junior A Tier II squad (junior hockey levels always confuse this writer), passed out fliers at Geneva's Burgess Field during the Vikings' football game against Wheaton North.
The Hitmen, who play home games at the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, are 1-7 thus far in the young season. The team includes a couple relatively local players: forward Mike Fazio of Bartlett, forward Alec DeAngelo of Itasca and defenseman Alex Murphy of Roselle.
Welcome to the neighborhood
It's likely only local boys basketball junkies have seen Wheaton Academy's newest star, Cameron Harvey. He transferred from St. Joseph after the 2010-11 school year and enrolled at Wheaton Academy in August.
Not that Harvey flew under the radar. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound combo guard has committed to Eastern Illinois University. As a sophomore he'd committed to Wyoming but de-committed the next year. One published report said he'd drawn early offers from Marquette and Baylor.
"He's a good player, very athletic," said Wheaton Academy coach Paul Ferguson. "I think he's going to do very well in the Ohio Valley Conference."
St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore said that in 24 games last season Harvey averaged 8 points and 3 rebounds.
"He's really a good kid," said Pingatore, who trails only Rockford Boylan's Steve Goers in Illinois prep coaching victories.
Why transfer away from the legendary Pingatore?
"Coach Pingatore is a phenomenal coach, a great fundamental coach and he taught me a lot of lessons, but some systems aren't for everybody," said Harvey, who lives in Naperville. "It was just one of those situations where it wasn't the right situation for me.
"Now I'm trying to take my talent to Wheaton Academy, and I feel like Coach Ferguson will allow me to play more like myself. I'm more suitable for the system at Wheaton Academy, and that's no knock at Coach Pingatore."
The young man sounds sincere and grateful, proclaiming thanks to everyone from his parents Bryan and Tivonnia to trainer R.W. Brown to AAU coach Dickey Simpkins to St. Joseph assistant Daryl Thomas to Waubonsie Valley graduate Matt Miller, whose M14 Hoops camp helped Harvey out.
Also Ferguson: "He's just really a standup guy," Harvey said.
The young man candidly assesses his own abilities: physical on both offense and defense, able to attack the basket, competitive and perhaps best of all, "a great pull-up jumper."
Harvey added that along with his athleticism and physique, Eastern Illinois coaches Mike Miller and Barron Thelmon were most impressed with that midrange shot.
"They feel that's a missing art in basketball nowadays," Harvey said. "I take a lot of pride in that."