After another practice in hot conditions earlier this month, Stevenson girls tennis coach Tom Stanhope delivered a vital reminder to his Patriots on the eve of the New Trier invite.
"Hydrate tonight," he told them on a baked court at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex. "Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate."
Tenth months ago, following the state meet at Prospect, his squad was hungry, hungry, hungry.
It mattered little that the Patriots had just accomplished something -- a third-place showing at state -- that would have satisfied most teams.
"It was like they all wanted to continue to work hard, right then and there," recalled Stanhope, who welcomed back five of his six state qualifiers.
"Ever since then," he added, "they've been doing whatever they can to close the gap on the teams that finished ahead of us (Hinsdale Central and New Trier) and distance themselves from the teams shooting for us."
Stanhope's netters fired winner after winner at the NT invite on Aug. 25, going 4-0 in duals to capture the team title. Stevenson topped teams from Moline, Highland Park, Lyons Township and the host school. Pats junior Alexxis Kiven and sophomore Kendall Kirsch -- third at state last fall as doubles partners -- flew solo vs. Moline. Kiven won 6-2, 6-0 at No. 1 singles, while Kirsch discolored a Maroon 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2.
Kiven later teamed with classmate Danielle Vasiliev to collect a pair of No. 1 doubles wins.
"Alexxis has always been a physical player," Stanhope said of the reigning NSC meet No. 1 singles champ. "Her fitness, it's like it was last year. But she looks stronger and she's playing with more of an edge. Kendall is fast -- easily the fastest on our team. And her shots … There's more muscle on them."
Vasiliev and current sophomore Michelle Tuchinskaya won three of four doubles matches at state last fall. Stevenson sophomore Kaylin Dong split two singles matches at state in 2011.
The top singles match in Lake County this month was between Mundelein senior Ari Dechter and Carmel Catholic sophomore Brienne Minor. Dechter, a state singles semifinalist as a sophomore, triumphed 7-5, 6-2 to avenge a 6-2, 6-1 loss in last fall's Highland Park sectional singles final.
Dechter reached a state singles quarterfinal in '11, while Minor made it to the fourth round.
"Brienne is very fit, focused and athletic," said Corsairs coach Nancy Fehn. "Humble, too. What I really like about her is her determination to do whatever she needs to do to get better."
All four of Carmel's state doubles qualifiers returned, including juniors and reigning HP sectional champs Kathleen Felicelli/Michelle Kannenberg (2-1 at state). Seniors Emily Rhine/Maclain Edwards went 1-1 at state.
All four of Warren's state doubles qualifiers in '11 -- Jenna Westerberg/Brittney Sunday and Lauren Chibucos/Avani Patel -- graduated. But returning Blue Devils state singles qualifier Max Mella has three years of eligibility remaining, and the team's top singles player this fall is freshman Karyna Bihel.
Bihel reminds Warren coach Vince DeSecki of a former Blue Devil standout with a similar first name: Karina Kocemba (WTHS, '07), who reached the sixth round of the back draw at state as a senior.
"Karyna is a very strong player," Warren coach Vince DeSecki said. "The new Karyna has the skill set of the old Karina."
Vernon Hills' Cougars, meanwhile, have set their sights on capturing a 10th North Suburban Conference Prairie division title in 13 years. Coach Doug Gerber's netters won a program-best 12 duals last fall, including a 6-0 mark in the Prairie. Junior Elizabeth Borgman has taken over at No. 1 singles for '12 graduate Amy Sebastian. Seniors Amy Dolan and Melanie Solheim returned as the Cougars' top doubles tandem.
Libertyville sophomore Halle Roach, like Borgman, battled at No. 2 singles a year ago. Roach has looked sharp in the early going at No. 1, after winning two 16-and-under singles titles at sanctioned tournaments in August. The Wildcats' top doubles player is junior Abby Anderson, who combined with current senior Emily Daluga to take fifth at No. 2 doubles at last year's NSC meet.
They're facing No. 1 doubles teams this fall.
Lake County's other No. 1s to watch in singles and doubles this fall: Melissa Donovan (Antioch); Karly Lakowski (Grant); Cassie Khou (Grayslake Central); Nicole Garcia/Janel Dignadice (Grayslake Central); Nathalia Moran (Grayslake North); Sydney Leanna/Taylor Wright (Grayslake North); Stephanie Lass (Lakes); Megan Soderlund/Jessica Beitzel (Lakes); Lucy Cai/Kelly McCauley (Mundelein); Danielle DeGuzman (Round Lake); Gift Inthaly/Gabby Luna (Round Lake); Courtney Sunday/Micayla Shultz (Warren); Emily Brennan (Wauconda); and Maggie LePage/Nicole Egorov (Wauconda).
Lake Zurich coach Aaron Rogers noted many of his players are adept at singles and doubles. Among his top returning Bears are Melanie Spears, Lauryn Schaal, Sam Bendfeldt, Sam Wilson, Gabi Bendfeldt and Emily Leahy.
"We have a lot of versatile players," Rogers said. "The challenge is finding the right combinations."
Notable early results:
Mundelein won the Lakes quad on Aug. 25, getting championship efforts from Dechter (No. 1 singles), Sara Jump (No. 2), Cai/McCauley (No. 1 doubles) and Alina Shumov/ Anne-Marie Arendt (No. 2).
Carmel went 3-0 at the East Suburban Catholic Conference invite on Aug. 25, winning a combined 19 of 20 matches against Fenwick, Joliet Catholic and Bishop McNamara. The Corsairs defeated Deerfield 6-2 two days later.
Dechter won each of her matches at the Lakes quad 6-0, 6-0.
Kelly Poggensee-Wei (Grayslake North, '12) placed sixth at state in singles after capturing a sectional championship last fall. She's playing D-I tennis at Cincinnati.
Dinks: Grayslake North junior Kelsey Borders, a No. 1 doubles player, suffered a broken foot in the offseason. She will return to the courts in mid-September. … Libertyville senior Arantxa Garcia-Escobar intends to play this fall after suffering a right ACL knee tear in February. She tore her left ACL in February 2011. Garcia-Escobar and MK Lee (LHS, '12) finished third at No. 1 doubles at last year's NSC meet. … Former DePaul tennis coach Chris Kannenberg is serving as an assistant coach at Carmel. … Stevenson sophomore Lena Adel is a transfer student from Egypt. … Carmel sophomore Christina Rao won all three of her No. 2 singles matches in straight sets at the ESCC invite Aug. 25.
Quote-worthy I: "She's worked hard on generating pace and developing her shots, and she's learned to construct points. She just pushed shots a freshman. Her growth as a tennis player has been tremendous."
-- Lakes coach Bryan Plinske, on Eagles senior No. 1 singles player Stephanie Lass.
Quote-worthy II: "She's fearless up there (at the net), so good." -- Stevenson junior Alexxis Kiven, on sophomore teammate Kendall Kirsch