Oswego East's Sajela Harlow defeated West Aurora's Emily Emily Stefancic in last year's sectional championship match, leaving the Blackhawks junior with a long time hoping to get even.
Stefancic did just that Saturday in the championship of the IMSA sectional, doing just about everything right in a 6-2, 6-1 victory in a match moved to the Vaughn Center because of rain.
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"I'm super excited," Stefancic said. "I've never beaten her before. I have been working hard all year for this moment and state."
Stefancic (25-7) said she drives 30 minutes each way to Burr Ridge to practice two to three hours a day, five days a week plus hitting with her dad and sister on weekends.
That all paid off against Harlow. Stefancic got her first serves in -- she didn't double fault once in either of her two matches Saturday -- and moved gracefully around the court coming up with winner after winner.
"Everything was flowing really well," Stefancic said. "I felt really confident in my strokes and my footwork was beautiful. I was feeling very good.
"My strategy today was to get on top of her and stay on top of her. It can be a real mental jerk. I felt like I had the power today to do exactly what I needed to do."
Blackhawks coach Tad Keely was equally impressed especially after watching Harlow win a matchup earlier this season 6-3, 6-0.
"This is a big psychological jump for her," Keely said. "She needed this. Sajela is a tough player and that's the best Em has played all year. Her serve was huge. Her footwork was great too, she was getting to every ball on the court. She got to everything."
This is the third time in as many years Stefancic has qualified for state as she looks to improve on top 50 as a freshman and top 33 last year.
"I would love to get to quarterfinals," Stefancic said. "My goal this week is to place higher than last year. I want to place top 25 and get my name out there."
Harlow's runner-up finish helped Oswego East take the sectional championship with 24 points.
Batavia came in second with 20 points led by its doubles team of Jennifer Mizikar and Amelia Cogan who rallied to beat Rosary's Andrea Goyao and Megan Conlin 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.
The Royals (20-5) nearly had the championship in the second set before Batavia (29-5) responded.
"We just had to keep pushing each other and keep each other going," said Cogan who along with Mizikar finished second in the sectional last year to teammates Hannah Potter and Kaitlin Mills. "I think we did a great job in the third set pumping each other up."
In Saturday's semifinals Mizikar and Cogan won 6-3, 6-3 over Waubonsie Valley's Anna Reimers and Amanda Glavin.
In the title match they got down 4-1 in the first set and nearly rallied back before staging the second and third set comeback.
"In tennis it looks like you are cruising along and then all of a sudden you get a couple points that don't go your way and things start going in the tank," Batavia coach Brad Nelson said. "It happened to both teams today and fortunately we ended on the upswing. We picked up our intensity and aggressiveness in the third set and I think Rosary after losing a close second set took a lot of wind out of their sails."
Tied 5-5 in the second set tiebreaker, Royals coach John Tsang watched his team play well enough to be in position for the win but not quite pull it out.
"We certainly had our opportunities," Tsang said. "It was a matter of two points that made the difference.
"In the third set we kept fighting but you have to give Batavia credit. They are a very experienced team. My girls had a little letdown after losing the second set. I am very encouraged, they have got a lot better since the beginning of the season. This is really the best tennis they have played this season. I think they are learning a lot in terms of how to close points. If they continue to play like this I feel they have a great opportunity to go pretty deep (at state)."
Mizikar and Cogan's championship helped make up for the disappointment of singles players Miranda Grizaffi and Liza Fruendt both losing in the third set Friday to fall a match short of state. Both Grizaffi and Fruendt won a match at state in 2011.
"It was a heartbreaker," Nelson said. "It was roller-coaster. We knew the sister of the Harlow girl (Jaiere who beat Fruendt 6-1, 3-6, 6-1) was good, had an 18-1 record, and to tell you the truth the Yorkville girl (Lindsey Schlichting, who beat Grizaffi 1-6, 7-5, 7-5) concerned me too. I knew both matches were going to be a battle."