Reigning Mid-Suburban League boys tennis champion Fremd overwhelmed the competition and managed the playing conditions Saturday at Hersey with a solid performance from start to finish.
Coach Matt Duncan's team proved it is still the favorite in the MSL after its clean sweep of three opponents, including York in the final, to capture the team title at the Hersey Tennis Invite.
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The Vikings won at 5 of 7 levels against the Dukes. Fremd was fueled by its top player, Maciej Niemcyzk at singles, and the doubles pair of Eric Pohl and Sudheer Vundru.
"We still have a few things to sort out in our lineup, but this is a great group of kids to coach, and I really feel that we are the team to beat both in the division and conference tournament at the end of the season," said Duncan. "Barrington is always tough," said Vundru, "and our biggest challenge and rival in the division and conference, and others are right there also. But we have a lot of guys back from last year, and we feel confident that we can win it all again."
Vundru and Pohl advanced into the fourth round of the consolation bracket at the state tournament last year before eliminated.
"It's been a tough spring so far with the weather and conditions, so it will take some time before everyone is playing at the level they should be, but once we do, we should be in real good shape when it matters," added Niemcyzk, who won 24 matches late season, but fell just short in his bid to return to the state tourney. "This is my last season, and I want both our team and myself to finish strong, so it's important to get into a groove and stay there."
The senior helped the Vikings shut out Freeport 7-0 to start the day. That followed a 6-1 win over an inexperienced Glenbard West club led by freshman Nate Dell, who dropped a straight-set match to Niemcyzk.
"We're going to be very young team this year, but we'll be fine later on after a lot of our new guys get more matches and experience under the belts," said Hilltoppers coach Jim Valleskey, who lost three-time state qualifier Matt Hirsh to Swarthmore College (Penn.), where he won six matches at singles during his rookie season. "We've got a new No. 1 (at dubs) with Kenny Reich and Jack Kellenberger, who were our No. 2 last year, so those guys will need some time together and used to playing top teams each time out."
"It's kind of exciting to be the No. 1 here at West this season," said Dell, who finished the season No. 48 in the USTA Midwest rankings at under-14. "Obviously, my goal is to qualify to play in the state tournament, but there's a lot of tennis ahead, and I'll just keep working hard and getting matches in against quality opponents."
The Hilltoppers handled Prospect 6-1 in their first contest of the day in Mt. Prospect, then were sent into the third-place match following the defeat to Fremd. West bounced back by beating Cary-Grove 6-1.
"York and Glenbard West were both strong, kind of what we expected," said Cary-Grove coach Amanda Schuetzle, who is starting her third season at C-G and led the team to a sixth-place Fox Valley finish last year, "but the guys put in some very good performances out there, and once we get things solved at doubles, I really feel that we can be a top-three team at the FVC tournament.
"We've got a strong No. 1 in Owen Russell, who worked hard in the off-season to be more patient and consistent in his play, and I can tell you his focus has really improved as well."
The big lefty was 22-11 last year, and fourth at No. 1 at the FVC tourney before his season ended in the sectionals with a loss to Prairie Ridge standout Ryan Kohl.
"My serve is so much better this year, and I put a lot of extra time in just being more consistent, and finishing off points because I want to meet my goal of winning conference and getting to state," said Russell.
Tourney host Hersey went 1-2 on the day, winning its last dual of the day over Freeport (6-1) to grab seventh-place honors.
Prospect edged Buffalo Grove 4-3 for fifth place, as the Knights gave their faithful a glimpse of what could be a strong 1-2 punch at singles. State qualifier Carson Burke returns for his third varsity season, and the Knights' newest addition, Ben Fisch, an exchange student from Switzerland, appears to be the real deal as well.
"Those two are neck and neck, so they will take turns at No. 1 for awhile, and maybe even play some doubles together before too long," said Prospect's Rick Huffman, the dean of all MSL coaches. "We're still sorting out our lineup, but a few questions were answered today during our three matches, so we might make a few chances this week to see how things go."
In its 5-2 triumph over York, Fremd went 3-0 at singles, with Jinwoo Oak (No. 2) defeating sophomore Jake Shostak after Niemcyzk's straight-set victory over another sophomore, Brendon Peterson.
The Fremd doubles teams of Kiran Devaraj and Tatsunori Nakanishi and Pohl and Vundru helped finish off the Dukes.
Rolling Meadows Invite
The Mustangs won their own invitational in dramatic fashion Saturday.
After topping St. Viator 7-0 in the quarterfinals, Rolling Meadows topped Maine South 5-2 in the semis.
In the championship match against Naperville Central, the scored was tied at 3-3, and the outcome depended on the result of the fourth doubles match.
Rolling Meadows' Charlie Metzger and Matt Kudla pulled out a three-set victory, taking the third-set tiebreak 12-10 to claim top honors for the day.