Stevenson senior Bryn Rubin and junior Caroline Kelmis embraced their moment as the center of attention in Saturday's North Suburban Conference girls tennis tournament.
A large contingent of players, coaches and fans converged on the court at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex where Rubin and Kelmis were battling Lake Forest's Brynn Carlson and Zoe Park in the third set of their No. 3 doubles championship match. And the scenario was simple for the last championship match of the tourney.
Rubin and Kelmis needed a victory to give their team a tie for the NSC crown. They didn't wilt under the pressure or fatigue of a grueling three-plus hour match as they pulled off a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory, which made Stevenson and Lake Forest co-champions with 34 points.
"Bryn was pumping me up and it was important because I wanted to do it for Bryn," Kelmis said after improving to 2-1 against Carlson-Park and 19-1 overall.
"Being a senior and losing my last match of the season, I was not going to do that," Rubin said. "I wanted to win conference and I wanted to win with Caroline."
They completed a Stevenson doubles sweep in matches against Lake Forest with Alexxis Kiven and Kendall Kirsch (22-1) at No. 1 and Kaylin Dong and Michelle Tulchinskaya (22-0) at No. 2. Zoe Manion and Vinaya Rao won their third-place matches.
"To win five matches, three against Lake Forest, is no easy task," said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope.
Warren took third with 26 points with runner-up singles finishes from Karyna Bihel and Alex Mella. But the Patriots' day eventually turned to Rubin and Kelmis as they admitted they enjoyed the spotlight.
"With everyone cheering, it gets you pumped up," Rubin said.
They also followed through on Stanhope's plan of being more aggressive than they were in a three-set loss to Carlson-Park in a dual where Lake Forest clinched the NSC Lake crown 10 days ago. Some aggression did cost the Patriots' duo when they were penalized a point by Stanhope after Rubin smashed a ball into the fence in frustration when the third set was tied at 4-4.
"I let my anger get the best of me and when I did that, I expected that," Rubin said of starting the next game in a 15-0 hole. "That's what you have to do to be a good coach. But it gave us that much more motivation and gave me that much more of a push."
They broke Lake Forest's serve and then quickly finished off the match on the combination of Rubin's powerful serves and a Kelmis winner at the net.
"I was pretty confident with my serves and Caroline's net play," Rubin said.
"Bryn serves really hard and that makes it easier to be at the net," Kelmis said. "There was no question we had to win that game."
Kiven and Kirsch won an NSC doubles title two years ago but were separated last year because Kirsch was injured. They beat Catherine Orfanos and Victoria Falk 6-1, 6-2.
"It got a little more fiery in the second set ... but it was good to get used to that again," Kiven said.
"It got us more pumped up," Kirsch said, "and we took charge and didn't let down after that."
Dong and Tulchinskaya haven't had a letdown all season and beat Margaux Miller and Caroline Asmussen 6-3, 6-2 in a match the Stevenson duo said was tougher than the score indicated.
"I feel like each game was really close and we fought really hard," Dong said.
"They're really good players and they were definitely a challenge," Tulchinskaya said. "They brought the game to us and we brought it back to them."
Manion (20-3) took third at No. 1 singles with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Grant freshman Gaby Schoenberg (25-2). Rao (20-5) took third at No. 2 with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Lake Zurich's Arianna Soheil.
Bihel (25-5) showed how much progress she has made with a three-set win over Manion in Friday's semifinals and her 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 loss in the title match to Lake Forest's Elizabeth Zordani. The Warren sophomore didn't win a first-set game in earlier straight-set losses to Manion and Zordani.
"It was awesome and I feel like I got better as a tennis player," Bihel said after taking a 2-1 third-set lead on Zordani. "It was a lot of fun to play with such great opponents. I'm glad I got to play better this time around."
Mella (28-2) lost 6-0, 6-3 to Christina Zordani for the No. 2 title.
"I started to get my rhythm back in the second set, but I guess it was too late," Mella said. "I wish I did it in the first set."
But it was still a big weekend for the Blue Devils as No. 1 doubles player Max Mella also became the third player in program history to win 100 varsity matches. They got third-place doubles finishes from Lauren Vrabel-Mikayla Schultz at No. 2 and Julie Zysk-Kristen O'Brien at No. 3.
"They're the best 1-2 (singles) punch we've ever had," Warren coach Vince DeSecki said of Bihel and Alex Mella. "They're both so good and they both have their strengths and weaknesses. It's a nice problem to have."
NSC Prairie champion Vernon Hills also had a memorable moment as seniors Rachel Jacoby and Melissa Roshass, who were seeded fourth at No. 1 doubles, beat Warren's Max Mella and Courtney Sunday 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 for third.
Their effort help Vernon Hills take fourth place, the Cougars' highest finish in program history.
A little pep talk after the third set from coach Doug Gerber helped Jacoby and Roshass get back on track.
"We just tried to do our best because this conference is amazing," Jacoby said.
"It's a pretty good victory and accomplishment for us," Roshass said.
East Suburban Catholic Conference
Seniors Michelle Kannenberg and Kathleen Felicelli continued their stellar season at No. 1 doubles by winning the East Suburban Catholic Conference title and helping Carmel finish second to Benet at Marian Catholic in Chicago Heights. Kannenberg-Felicelli (26-2) beat Providence's Maggie and Kelly Ruane 6-3, 6-4 for the title.
The Corsairs' Megan Sullivan and Sarah Bowles won the No. 2 title 7-5, 6-2 over Benet's Annie McGuigan and Emma Lange. Ruthie Firnbach and Megan Healy lost a three-set title match at No. 3 doubles and Maddy O'Donnell was fourth at No. 2 singles