Eric Pohl's tennis season at Fremd was over.
Or so he thought.
The sophomore No. 3 singles player helped the Vikings successfully defend their Mid-Suburban League championship last weekend. Only two singles players and two doubles teams get to compete for each school at sectionals.
But Pohl voluntarily attended practices during the week to drill and play out points with Fremd's sectional netters.
At practice on Thursday he found out some startling news -- and great news. The left-handed Pohl was chosen by Vikes coach Matt Duncan to compete at this weekend's Stevenson boys tennis sectional as an 11th-hour replacement doubles partner alongside junior lefty Sudheer Vundru.
"Two days ago at practice our coach got us together to tell us about the change in our lineup," Pohl said Saturday at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex, Stevenson's home facility. "It surprised me. I then went through some doubles drills because I had to work on closing out points and hitting overheads and volleys.
"(Vundru) and I also played a half set against our No. 1 doubles team (seniors Mike Artov and Matt Buesing)."
The cram session paid off. Pohl/Vundru qualified for the state meet Friday with a doubles quarterfinal win and finished third on Saturday after falling 6-0, 6-2 to top-seeded Andrew Komarov/Colin Harvey of Stevenson in a sectional semifinal. The pair of Vikings defeated another state-qualifying Patriots pair, Adam Maryniuk/Dennis Kontorovich, 6-4, 6-1 in the match for third place and finished the weekend with a 4-1 record. On set point in the first set Vundru ripped an inside-out forehand that somehow landed in a shallow part of an alley for a clean winner.
The pairing of Pohl and Vundru wasn't a random one. They went 15-0 at No. 3 doubles last spring.
"They exceeded my expectations (this weekend)," said Duncan. "Eric had to adjust from singles to doubles in a hurry; that's not an easy thing to do. Compared to singles the game of doubles is so different -- the angles, the importance of net play, finishing points quickly."
Stevenson finished with more points (33) than any other team did at the sectional and qualified the maximum four entrants to the state meet. Patriots junior Jeremy Bush beat Vernon Hills junior Ismail Kadyrov 6-1, 6-1 in the singles championship, while Stevenson senior Brian Kim outlasted Fremd senior Nick Makowiecki 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (6) for third place.
Runner-up Fremd (22 points) also received a second-place doubles effort from Artov/Buesing, who lost 6-1, 6-4 to Komarov/Harvey (26-3) in Saturday's doubles final.
Harvey, a freshman, has a high-kicking serve, super reflexes, vitality -- and world-class tennis genes. If Harvey were to defeat his aunt, Linda Secord, he'd have an indirect win over Martina Navratilova. Secord, formerly Linda Harvey-Wild, battled for years on the professional tour and beat the former No. 1 legend in the late 1990s.
"She's one of my idols," said Komarov, a sophomore. "She's watched Colin and me play this spring. I love it when we're playing and she's around."
Bush improved to 20-5 with his win over an aggressive Kadyrov. But the 6-1, 6-1 result was a highly deceptive. The points were lengthy and quite competitive. Kadyrov, the first Cougar to qualify for state in program history last spring, tried everything to take the Pat out of his rhythm.
"Jeremy played some unbelievable tennis," said Kadyrov, dressed from hat to toe in Wimbledon-esque all white. "He must have been serving at 80 percent, and he was hitting line after line and passing me with crazy-good shots. I even told him how incredible he was playing (in between games).
"Maybe I told him that to try to get in his head a little. It didn't work."
Bush had quaffed a glass of pickle juice Saturday morning to lessen his chances of suffering from leg cramps in the sunny, humid conditions. But his shots weren't sour at all, particularly in the final. Bush countered most of Kadyrov's powerful groundstrokes by smoothly taking them on the rise with a touch of topspin.
"Our games were close," said Bush, who topped Kadyrov 6-3, 6-3 in their first meeting this spring. "He was volleying well, holding his ground. When it got to 30-30 or deuce in games, I knew I had to play smart tennis on the next point. Those points were important."
Not too many points separated Stevenson's Kim and Fremd's Makowiecki in their lengthy match for third place in singles Saturday. It lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes. Leg cramps hindered Makowiecki at the tail end of the match. Kim, a state qualifier in singles a year ago, led 4-2 in the clinching set but had to blast a passing shot to save a match point against at 6-5 in the tiebreaker.
The Patriot then won the final two points to finally end it.
"Brian was a warrior out there," said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope. "He was a senior showing how it should be done. He moved (Makowiecki) around pretty well and used his strengths to his advantage. What an effort. He'll no doubt remember that match for quite a while."