The Neuqua Valley girls tennis team is working hard to produce at least one state qualifier after two seasons of failing to get someone to the state tournament.
On Wednesday the Wildcats' two biggest hopes for state, first singles Anusha Pai and first doubles Taylor Hershey and Riti Vohra, continued to impress with victories that helped lead the host Wildcats to a 6-2 win over Naperville North.
"Both Anusha and the doubles team are possibilities for state," said Neuqua Valley coach Trudy Bennorth. "If they just keep their focus and play the way they know how to play, they'll be all right."
While Vohra and Hershey -- who have formed a solid, consistent partnership -- took their match 6-2, 6-1, Vohra had to overcome a first-set defeat to come back and dominate her first-singles match 3-6, 6-0, 6-0.
"Tennis is a mental game and I was not focused in the first set," Pai said. "After that set coach Bennorth talked to me and that gave me confidence and helped me get my focus. In the second set I just kept putting the ball back in play and played it point by point."
"Anusha was trying a little too hard early in that match," Bennorth said, "but once she took her time and thought about playing her game, she got her act together and cruised through. She did a great job."
Hershey and Vohra admit that they had a period of adjustment when they first became partners shortly after the season started, but they've learned to communicate better on the court, which has given their complementary games the chance to flourish.
"Taylor plays more consistently and I tend to go for the big shots," Vohra said. "At the beginning our styles were conflicting and that was frustrating. But we figured out how to keep talking and stay positive. We focused on our serves and service return to get the first chance to put it away up at the net. And that seems to be working well."
"We can both get to a lot of shots and that helps us on close points," Hershey said. "Riti will go for a lot of shots that help us get the win. I really like putting the ball away at the net and she has great groundstrokes. We're communicating better and we think we have a good chance to make it to state."
Naperville North, which was playing without first doubles Julia Li, who was ill, had a lot of girls out of position at both singles and doubles.
"We put her partner Jessica Hu at first singles, which bumped all the singles down a position," said Naperville North coach Heather Henricksen. "And so we had to bump all the doubles up a position. But generally I was pleased with how our team competed. Doubles has been our strength this year, but today we had more success at singles. Neuqua Valley has an outstanding team and they just played better tennis today."