No state titles are won in early April, but after Hinsdale Central's stunning win over New Trier on Saturday afternoon, it appears the reigning state champion and preseason favorite may have a serious contender come late May.
The Red Devils won 2 of 3 flights at doubles and used a victory at No. 2 singles from Sam Bloom to edge the Trevians 3-2 and earn the team title at the annual Benet-Downers Grove South tournament played on Central's home courts.
Tourney co-host Downers Grove South slipped by downstate power Edwardsville 3-2 for third-place honors, while Naperville North, led by four-year star Gordon Zhang, beat Benet 3-2 in the consolation championship dual.
Barrington ended a long day of tennis with a 3-2 victory over Moline for seventh place overall.
"This was a pretty good day for us, and for me as well, but it was a lot of tennis, and I am sure we're all tired right now," said Zhang, who went 4-2 in his third consecutive appearance at the state tournament last season and is looking to make his final year at North his best ever before continuing to play at the University of Chicago next school year. "My goal has always been to win a state title, and even though there's a very good field at singles this year, some here today, my goal remains the same, and that's what I am going after this season.
"We'll have a very competitive team this season once we get our lineup set, and my hope is for this team to win a conference title, then a sectional team title and a top-15 finish as a team at the state tournament."
The Huskies had the misfortune to draw New Trier in their first match, played at Lyon Township, and the Trevians roughed up Zhang and his mates 5-0. Zhang lost in a super-tiebreaker to sophomore Aaron Hiltzik, younger brother of 2011 state runner-up Jared Hiltzik.
"It was the little things in that match which cost me," said Zhang. "I didn't hit my forehand well, and I certainly had my chances in the tiebreaker to win, but credit Aaron for his work and doing the things needed to win."
The super-tibreaker had the feel of a state tournament match, going back and forth until Hiltzik opened an 8-4 lead. But Zhang fought his way back to pull within 9-8 before Hiltzik finished things off.
"Gordon is such a great player, he works so hard for points and never gives in or gives away bad points. He's such a terrific player and young man," said New Trier coach Tad Eckert.
Zhang bounced back to defeat Varun Parekh (6-1, 6-1) of Barrington in the Huskies' 3-2 victory in the second round, and then topped Kevin Dawson of Benet 6-0, 6-0.
Junior Terrance Chen went 2-1 as the Huskies' No. 2 singles player.
Benet coach Michael Hand saw many more positives than negatives from his players, beginning with his first doubles team of Bobby Martin and Matt Rurka, who went 2-1 after victories over Moline (6-2, 7-6) and 6-2, 6-2 against Naperville North's Steve Schrage and Yusuke Asai.
"Those two are starting to understand how to play together as doubles partners after playing doubles last year with different partners," said Hand, who watched his top team fall 7-5, 7-5 to Central's Michael Lorenzini and Chris Saltiel in their tourney opener against the eventual champions. "We needed a weekend like this one, where we saw some of the best around, to help us see where we're at, and just how much more work we all need to do in order to get ourselves ready to go in the final weeks of the season.
"I told the guys it's not how we start, but how we finish at the ESCC and sectional tournament, and all in all I was pretty happy with how we played and with the results that we got."
Martin and Rurka led a clean sweep at doubles versus Moline in a 4-1 victory, with the No. 2 team of Grant Gotto-Matt Garvin, and the duo of Alex Romano-Coner Flynn winning at No. 3 doubles as well.
John Roncone's Barrington team has had better days at this tournament, but the Broncos finished on a bright spot to send the defending MSL runners-up home with a seventh-place finish overall after a 3-2 victory over Moline.
The Bronocs went 3-0 at doubles to defeat their opponents, with George Coll and Varun Parekh outlasting Ty Buenting-Jed Wood 6-3, 7-5 to give the duo a split for the day after an opening loss to Edwardsville (Justin Leskera-Cameron Randall) 6-4, 6-2.
"It was a tough day at some spots, but a tournament like this, with matches against teams like Edwardsville and Naperville North will benefit us in the long run, and proved to be a good gauge for us when it comes to sorting out our lineup and what to work on in the coming days and weeks," said Roncone. "We mixed and matched our lineup all day, and even in defeat we saw a lot of good things to build from.
"If anything, I hope the boys learned how important it is to win the big points when the opportunity is there for them."
Rishi Chatterji gave a good effort in his loss at No. 1 singles to Edwardsville sophomore Brandon Harris, as did Parekh against Zhang in the Broncos' 4-1 loss to North.
Downers Grove South was impressive on this day, even without a key member. Tony Leto was out of state, competing at the prestigious Easter Bowl.
Big brother Joey stunned last year's sixth-place state medalist Sam Bloom to give the Mustangs their lone victory against Hinsdale Central, but South's No. 1 doubles team of Cody Freischlag and Connor Harmon fueled a 4-1 romp over Moline, and 3-2 triumph over Edwardsville in the third-place match.
"It was good to finally beat (Justin) Leskara," said Freischlag, who finished 2-2 in last year's state tournament with Harmon. "We feel like we have a lot of upside as a doubles team, and once Tony gets back, we should have the chance to have a very good year during the regular season, and then in the postseason."
In the tournament final, Jared Hiltzik outlasted freshman phenom Martin Joyce 7-6 (5), 6-4 in a wonderfully played match, but Bloom upended Aaron Hiltzik in two sets, before the Red Devils No. 1 doubles team of Peter Heneghan-Alex Hagermoser beat Rob and Nate Jacobsen 6-3, 6-4.
Later on, Central used a 6-3, 6-3 victory from its No. 3 team Harold Martin-Griffin Johns to seal its big victory.