The Mid-Suburban League girls tennis tournament begins Thursday and wraps up Saturday at Rolling Meadows.
Much of the plot lines for the tournament are familiar, but enough has changed to make this season conference championship unique.
First, the familiar: Barrington (16-6, 5-0) won the Mid-Suburban West title and is eyeing a 19th consecutive MSL crown.
Fillies sophomore No. 1 singles player Michelle Linden and junior no. 2 singles player Caroline Levy both earned tops seeds in the tournament, while the Barrington tandem of junior Addie Hirsch and senior Anna Donoghue received a No. 2 seed.
The top four seeds in each bracket have a bye through the first round.
"It seems that our best matches have been against the top teams," said Barrington coach Tracy Waters-Miller. "We like the challenge of top teams regardless the score of matches. Our goal is to be the best we can be -- enjoy the challenge."
And, now, something new: Hersey (9-3, 7-2) dethroned Buffalo Grove as Mid-Suburban East champ. The most recent winner before the Bison's eight-year East title run was Hersey.
Hersey junior Sara Magnuson (16-6, 6-2) got a No. 4 seed at first singles. At No. 2, Ana Karapetiani slotted a three seed. Karapetiani (19-3, 7-1) started the season at No. 3 singles but has steadily improved.
Hersey coach Sharon Meintzer especially enjoyed the strong performance the Huskies displayed against Lake Zurich -- a program that normally gives the Huskies trouble -- in a 7-0 decision this fall.
Last season, Hersey finished sixth in the MSL. The Huskies hope to improve upon that this weekend.
"The girls have been preparing for this season since last summer," Meintzer said. "They met my expectations by earning the East Division title for the first time in eight years. I am confident the girls will play well and finish the tourney better than last year.
"With the championship on the line and MSL competition, it becomes somewhat nerve-wracking, and then it is anybody's game."
Fremd (10-5) took second in the MSL West this season and enjoyed strong play from senior Amy Byrne (4-4 in the MSL), while no. 2 junior doubles team Caroline Freeman/Alice Zhang (21-4, 8-0) received a No. 1 seed.
Vikings coach Lauren Hall was especially thrilled with the progress of freshman third singles player Abby Stelnicki, and how she became so mentally tough in every match she plays.
"While in practice, we are working on a lot of match strategy that I saw we could improve on from the past weekend tournament at Rolling Meadows," Hall said. "For our program we always want to be at the top. So as a team we have discussed how each match and every level is so important for our team to succeed as a whole. We need everyone to give their best in order to reach our goal of being in the top teams in the conference."
Buffalo Grove coach Kevin Schrammel is proud of the work his players have put in this season in taking second in the East. At third singles, Anna Sandler is a 1/2 seed, while third doubles duet Jessie Jarosz/Anna Harisiadis and fourth doubles Jessie Schwartz/Christina Harisiadis both posted 1/2 seeds as well.
"The conference is very close throughout and I could see many teams coming up with some upsets in any of the brackets," Schrammel said. "The girls were very proud of their win against Deerfield, which our program hasn't had a win against in a long time."
Prospect (5-3 against MSL teams) saw some stellar performances with individual accomplishments in weekend invitationals. Sophomore first singles player Natalie Lysik (16-9, 5-3) defeated a few 2012 state qualifiers, and Prospect coach Michael McColaugh is spending time tightening up fundamentals like footwork, positioning and strategy with the Knights. The Prospect lineup for conference is full of veterans.
"Our primary goal is to play the tournament like we try and play every other match -- aggressively and confidently," McColaugh said. "We are hoping to put ourselves into some positions where we can avenge a few regular-season losses. Our girls truly believe they are pulling off some stunners."
Hoffman senior Courtney Lang (12-2), a three-time state-qualifier, won at first singles last year. This season she won her fourth straight Vernon Hills tournament title. Hoffman Estates coach Greg Rouse has especially enjoyed the maturity and work ethic displayed by one of his players at third doubles, Parish Gray.
"We have improved from the beginning of the season, which I'm happy with," Rouse said. "Have a target in mind, and keep the ball in."
Conant (9-4, 5-3) is looking to improve upon last year's seventh-place MSL finish after taking third in the MSL West this fall. Cougars No. 1 singles player Natalia Migdal (8-13) has improved her match play after transitioning from doubles, while at second singles freshman Gabby Kaminski has won five matches in a row, including against Fremd and Barrington.
"We are working on the same things we have been stressing all season -- improving our net play and playing smarter," said Conant coach Dave Koleno.
Rolling Meadows (5-12, 2-3) had hoped to finish in the top three in the MSL East and top six in the conference. Mustangs coach Jim Gumz thinks it is possible to meet those expectations, but it will be a challenge.
The Mustangs got strong play again from seniors Jackie and Allie Kemph a first doubles. They're 20-3 and earned a top seed.
"Our best team performance came from all of our doubles teams, as we won all four doubles matches -- three in three sets -- to defeat Prospect," Gumz said. "Our advice is that this is the time of the year to play your best tennis."
Central Suburban North
Maine West (7-12) had some growing pains during the season, but the Warriors still found a way to maximize their ability and stay in matches. Maine West first doubles team Ania Holubecki/Rachel Anderson (16-6) has been in the forefront for the Warriors this season. Their top performance was defeating the No. 1 Deerfield doubles team in straight sets.
Maine West coach Neal Sipkovsky was extremely pleased, because the Warriors hadn't won a match against Deerfield since 2004.
"You want to do well against all opponents, but it is imperative that we perform particularly well when facing off against our skill level contemporaries like Niles North and Maine East," Sipkovsky said. "You just want everyone to stay focused, relax and have fun. The season is quickly winding down -- let's maximize every last moment."