Top teams: Hinsdale Central, Downers Grove South, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Benet
Top players:Benet: Grant Gatto, sr.; Noah Read, junior; Stephen Kovach, so.; Downers Grove North: Tristan Burnham, sr.; Mantas Kisielius, jr.: Downers Grove South: Jon Artus, sr.; Cody Freischlag, sr.; Tony Leto, so.; Christian San Andres, fr.; Fenton: Freddy Lavric, sr.; Erwin Lavric, so.; Daniel Franchi, jr. Glenbard North: Matt Krzyaniak, sr.; Matt Mistro, sr.; Glenbard South: Brendan Colgan, so.; Glenbard West: Jack Kellenberger, sr.; Kenny Reick, sr.; Steven Hanna, so.; Harold Martin, sr.; Eddie Grabill, so.; Hinsdale Central: Alex Hagermoser, sr.; Chase Hamilton, jr.; Peter Heneghan, sr.; Martin Joyce, so.; Michael Lorenzini, so.; Lake Park: Jack Millikan, jr.; Evan Sabal, sr.; Metea Valley: Kyle Chin, so.; Naperville Central: Danny Albert, sr.; Wesley Lo, jr.; Justin Gillette, sr.; Sid Swamy, sr.; Naperville North: Lee Charles, sr.; Steven Nguyen, sr.; Terrance Chen, sr.; Neuqua Valley: Kenneth Hoffman, sr.: Andi Kosova, sr.; Jack Warning, sr.; Naveen Krishnan, sr.; St. Francis: Chris Checko, so.; Matt Armbrust, jr.; Waubonsie Valley: Eric Marbach, sr.; Mike Cioffi, sr.; Alex Tadevich, sr.; Thomas Cislavsky, fr.; Wheaton North: Caleb Aulie, sr.; Wheaton Warrenville South: Charlie McDonough, fr.; Brian Welch, sr.; Tim Reinders, sr.; Zach Orlove, so.; York: Jonathon Elsey, sr.; Alex Riddle, so.; Brendan Peterson, so.
Outlook: A three-team battle in the DuPage Valley Conference, Neuqua Valley is favored to win the Upstate Eight Conference and Hinsdale Central is looking to repeat as the state champion. It's mostly business as usual in DuPage County boys tennis.
Naperville Central won the DVC last year, narrowly defeating its cross-town rival, and by all indications the two will battle it out again, with Wheaton Warrenville South having something to say about it at the end of the year. The Redhawks have three returning state qualifiers back, including the doubles team of Albert and Lo, who finished in the top 16 at state. During the DVC season Albert returns to No. 1 singles where he finished second in the conference to the graduated Gordon Zhang of Naperville North. Lo will have another partner in conference play. Gillette, another state doubles qualifier, will also have another partner. Swamy who sat out last season with an injury, was No. 1 singles his first two years. Veterans Vishwas Jena (singles) and Tommy Wu (doubles) were DVC champs of their flights. Once coach Dan Brown settles on his doubles lineup, the Redhawks will be ready to defend their title. The coach is hoping to qualify both singles and both doubles for state. "Our team goals are to win the DVC and win the West Aurora sectional. "We have strong veteran players throughout the lineup," Brown said.
The Zhang era has ended at Naperville North. Zhang was a dominant No. 1 singles player and a great team leader for the Huskies, so he will be impossible to replace. But coach Heather Henricksen has plenty of talent returning including the state-qualifying doubles team of Charles and Nguyen. Charles is a possibility for Zhang's first singles spot. Chen, who was second in the DVC at second singles, is another outstanding returnee for the Huskies. Henricksen, in addition to having others back, also welcomes the graduates of the conference-champion sophomore team. Most DVC coaches believe the Huskies and the Redhawks will be in a two-team race for the conference title.
But never rule out Wheaton Warrenville South. The Tigers will be without state qualifier Andy Page, who will not be playing high school tennis this year, but they are solid at the top of the lineup, and coach Patti Clousing always has the team ready to challenge at the conference meet. Welch, a much-improved senior, and McDonough, the heralded freshman, will be battling it out for first singles. A possible team of Reinders and Orlove should make first doubles strong as well. "My team will surprise a few people," Clousing said. "We have a few seniors who have some experience. We're planning on giving the Napervilles a run."
Glenbard North, which has its most experienced team in years led by state qualifier Krzyaniak, could sneak into the other first-division spot, but Wheaton North, which finished in the top half last year, and Glenbard East are also better.
The Upstate Eight has become Neuqua Valley's little fiefdom, and the Wildcats are favored to win again this year. They won conference and sectionals and finished 13th at state. Warning and Kosova went to state as a doubles team, but they could be separated. Hoffman is another state qualifying doubles player who returns. Krishnan could make it this year at singles. "We have nine seniors and we have some good players coming up," said Neuqua Valley coach Trudy Bennorth. "We're hoping this is the year we can get back to the top 10."
The big UEC challenge could come from neighbor Waubonsie Valley, which has Marbach, one of the best players in the state, playing high school tennis for the first time since his freshman year. Cioffi and Tadevich became a solid doubles team last year, but their positions have not been determined as yet. Cislavsky is ranked as one of the top 14-year-olds in northern Illinois. "We're solid at the top of the lineup and we should be competitive," coach Phil Galow said.
Lake Park and Metea Valley are both on the rise and either could be a spoiler and challenge the leaders.
Hinsdale Central gets back five of the six guys who brought the Red Devils another state title led by state doubles kings Hagermoser and Heneghan. And there are numerous Red Devils who won't make their starting team but would be state qualifiers if they played for other schools. The goal again is to win conference, sectionals and state. Second place at state is not a successful season.
The presence of the Red Devils relegates formidable teams like Glenbard West, York and Downers Grove North to also-rans in the West Suburban Silver. All three return top-flight players and are expecting successful seasons.
Downers Grove South, led by state qualifiers Freischlag, Artus and Leto are the class of the West Suburban Gold. They'll be joined by San Andres, who, according to coach Peter Freischlag, "is the best freshman we've ever had." "This is as good as we've been," coach Freischlag said. "We're a little younger than last year, but our potential is exciting. We hope to qualify everyone and finish in the top 10 at state."
Benet won the East Suburban Catholic Conference and finished 16th at state. The returning talent includes the state doubles team of Read and Gatto and a solid contingent of veterans including Kovach, who could play first singles. "Most of our players are about even," said Benet coach Michael Hand. "We have a lot of experience and we should be up-to-speed early in the season.
St. Francis is looking for a repeat of its title run in the Suburban Christian, while Glenbard South and Fenton will be in the thick of things in the Metro Suburban Conference.
Important dates: April 4: Waubonsie Valley at Neuqua Valley; April 6: Benet/Downers Grove South Team Tournament; April 13: Naperville North Invite; April 18: Naperville North at Wheaton Warrenville South; April 20: Downers Grove South Invite; April 23: Wheaton Warrenville South at Naperville Central; May 2: Naperville North at Naperville Central; May 3-4: Naper Valley Invite; April 30: Waubonsie Valley at Metea Valley; May 10-11: conference tournaments; May 17-18 sectionals; May 23-25 state tournament.
-- Neil Shalin