Pitchford 32 preview
When: 2 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Hersey (tournament host) and six area sites
Defending team champion: New Trier
Defending No. 1 singles champion: Robert Stineman (New Trier)
Defending No. 1 doubles champion: David Packowitz-Ross Putterman (Stevenson)
The biggest tennis weekend of the regular season is finally here. The Pitchford 32 -- or just "The 32," as it's been called recently, opens Friday at a half-dozen venues around the area, including in Arlington Heights at host Hersey, where the finals will take place early Saturday afternoon, and the bottom half of the draw at No. 1 singles can be seen beginning Friday at 2 p.m.
Nearly every top team and player in the state is here, with the exception of the dynamic singles duo of Konrad Zieba and Sam Hoogland of Glenbrook South and Julian Childers from Marian Catholic. Fans will still get a close look at the state tournament field, and how it might eventually shape up four weeks from now when the 97th state tournament kicks off.
Last season, New Trier began its run to a second consecutive state title by topping the likes of Stevenson, Hinsdale Central and Deerfield. The Trevians are favored to follow a similar course this season.
However, Hinsdale Central, with the addition of the freshman phenon Martin Joyce, appears to be playing for real this spring after the Red Devils tied the Trevians last weekend for top honors at the prestigious Jay Kramer Invite.
This is also the weekend when several coaches from around the state will begin to tweak their lineups, particularly at doubles, in hopes of finding the right combination of players for the end of the season.
Top 8: Jason Brown (Deerfield, 9-4), Aron Hiltzik (New Trier, 12-2), Joey Leto (Downers Grove South, 14-0), Sam Bloom (Hinsdale Central, 5-1), Jeremy Bush (Stevenson, 4-3), Gordon Zhang (Naperville North, 13-2), Luke Trinka (Oak Park-River Forest, 6-3). With the singles trio of Zieba, Hoogland and Childers elsewhere this weekend, and with 2011 state runner-up Jared Hiltzik (New Trier) absent, look for a few others to make their mark, including the younger Hiltzik (sophomore) and veterans Zhang and Leto. Leto defeated Bloom earlier at the Benet/DGS Invite, while No. 1 seed Brown lost to Illinois-bound Jared Hiltzik (6-1, 6-3) in the Jay Kramer final. On the outside looking in is Metamora's Will Koehrsen (20-2), who would meet 3-4 seed Bloom in one of the best second-round matches. Bush, who has missed some time due to injuries, is 2 wins away from facing Brown at the top of the bracket. At No. 2 singles, it will be Joyce and everyone else, as the freshman as already shown that he can play with the best and may be deserving of a top 5-8 seed in late May.
Top 8: Highland Park (Zach Brint-Danny Wynbrandt, 9-1), Hinsdale Central (Alex Hagermoser-Peter Heneghan, 5-0), Downers Grove South (Connor Harmon-Cody Freischlag, 13-2), New Trier (Nate Jacobson-Rob Jacobson, 10-3), Stevenson (Colin Harvey-Andrew Komarov, 10-1), Edwardsville (Justin Leskara-Cameron Randall, 16-4), Deerfield (Toby Ma-Jack Kasbeer, 6-4), Oak Park-River Forest (Tim McAdam-Jeremy Dixon, 6-3): By virtue of its 3-set victory over New Trier's Alex Galoustian-Alex Mang in the finals of the Jay Kramer, Highland Park was given the top seed, just ahead of Hinsdale Central, whom they beat in the semis last weekend before a defeat of New Trier. HP senior Brint is a two-time state medalist at doubles, so his experience at this level will help the Giants' Wynbrandt, a one-time singles player for coach Steve Rudman. There will be plenty of teams to target for some close attention, including Edwardsville and Downers Grove South, New Trier's No. 1 (which did not compete at the Jay Kramer) as well as Bloomington (Nathan Cavanaugh-Ricky Zamudio, 13-0) and Metamora (Quinn Vaughn-Christopher Goettler, 18-3), who see Highland Park and OPRF (McAdam-Dixon) in the second round today. Stevenson's No. 1 team of Colin Harvey and Andrew Komarov, fresh off a championship run at the Buffalo Grove Invite, garnered a well-deserved 5-8 seed, and finds itself in a good spot in the top half of the bracket. If the Patriots duo can get past NSC rival Warren (Matt Matheny-Samuel Gudeman) in its opener, it would then face, for the third time this season, Glenbrook North (Bill Angel-Adam Spector) whom they defeated last weekend in their championship match.
A terrrific outing at the Jay Kramer pushed Varun Parekh-George Coll of Barrington (10-3) into the spotlight as a 9-16 seed at No. 1 doubles, and a spot opposite New Trier in the second round should they win their opening match against Homewood-Flossmoor at Buffalo Grove. The host Bison and their top team of Vlad Zuperman-Ari Kazan (10-2) feed directly into Edwardsville if successful against Mid-Suburban East rival Hersey (Jake Wendell-Robin Shin). BG teammates Steve Mazzoni-Nick Boustead (10-4) grabbed a 5-8 seed, and are on course to meet No. 1 Hinsdale Central in the second round.
At singles, last year's state qualifiers at doubles, senior Nick Makowiecki (13-2) and Maciej Niemcyzk of Fremd, are going solo. Makowiecki earned a 9-16 seed and a date with Hiltzik in round No. 2. Prospect sophomore Carson Burke (9-6) is also a 9-16 seed, and the draw for the Knights star sends him against Glenbrook North freshman Will Sauser. A winer there would put him up against 2011 state qualifier Peter Tarwid of Lake Forest. Two-time state qualifier Kristiyan Trukov (Warren, 16-4) will see Leto of DGS in the second round.
While Hinsdale Central has stood up to the reigning state champions from New Trier, coach Tad Eckert still hasn't shown his entire hand this season, mixing and matching his starting lineup to keep everyone happy, tournament-ready and in form. This weekend won't be any different with his best player out. The real show to watch might be how well some of the 3-4 or 5-8 seeds fare in hopes of improving their draw at the state tournament, and which teams will be chasing these two top dogs for the big hardware this weekend. Downers Grove South might be ready to make a splash this weekend and is good bet to grab a top-five trophy, thanks in part to its wonderful one-doubles team and the 1-2 singles punch of the Leto brothers (Joey and Tony). Both are capable of adding plenty of points for the Mustangs.
Once again, fans will be able to follow along all throughout the two days of competition on the Hersey High School website, which will be updating individual and team scores from the onset of play. All finals at Nos. 1 and 2 will be played at Hersey on Saturday.
-- Mike Garofola