Team effort lifts Naperville N. to sectional title
There was plenty of glory to go around at Saturday's Naperville North boys tennis sectional with three schools capturing championships.
The host Huskies won the team title for the fifth year in a row, sensational Glenbard West freshman Nate Dell won the singles title and the veteran Benet duo of Grant Gatto and Noah Read finished first in doubles.
"Tennis is an individual sport, but we make it a team sport," said the Huskies' Benny Li who qualified for state in the singles bracket. "We have a team chant, and we help each other during practices and support each other in matches. Some people think we're overdoing it, but we're a team."
"All year long we talked about our team depth," said Naperville North coach Heather Henricksen. "And that showed today with our sectional lineup. But a lot of the credit for our success is shared with the guys who competed at the lower positions all season, who practiced and pushed these players to achieve great things."
The man most responsible for the team spirit is senior captain Steven Nguyen, who qualified for state Saturday with his sophomore doubles partner, Rohit Rastogi.
In addition to rallying the troops, Nguyen took it upon himself to mentor Rastogi, who until this year was a singles player, in the art of playing doubles.
"We have a tradition here of partnering a senior with an underclassman at first doubles," Henricksen said. "Steven appreciated the older guys helping him in his first two years, so he took on that role with Rohit. Steven is a great leader who expects the best out of everyone."
After finishing second in last week's DuPage Valley Conference Tournament, Nguyen and Rastogi put in an intense week of work with assistant coach Todd Keating, who helped them vary their game by bringing in different formations such as the I and the Australian.
Singles player Li, who went unseeded and had to win a pigtail match to get into the main bracket, won three matches in the sectional to qualify for state, and fellow Huskie Terrance Chen played his typically patient and consistent game to also qualify for the state tournament, which begins Thursday.
Gatto and Read, who qualified for state last year, showed what a year of experience together can do when they defeated Rastogi and Nguyen 6-3, 6-3 to win the doubles championship.
"We're hoping this performance will get us seeded at state," Read said.
The two Redwings who finished in the top 48 at state last year have lost only once this year.
Benet's other doubles team of Matt Garvin and Stephen Kovach also qualified for state, as did the Wheaton Warrenville South duo of Brian Welch and Tim Reinders.
Dell, a freshman, made his mark by defeating Chen 6-2, 6-4 in the singles finals.
"Nate showed a lot of maturity for a freshman," said Glenbard West coach Jim Valleskey. "And in a tournament like this that is even more important than always hitting the big shot. "
"My goal is to keep every ball on the court and not give the opponent any free shots," Dell said. "I try to visualize my game before every match. That helps a lot."
Wheaton Warrenville South freshman Charlie McDonough, who topped Li in the third-place match, was the other state singles qualifier.
Naperville North scored 24 points to win the sectional, with Benet second at 20 and Wheaton Warrenville South and Glenbard West tied for third with 18 points each.
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