Stevenson's top six girls tennis players have not experienced many down times this season with a combined 11 losses.
But odds are a downer is likely when the three-day state tournament begins today with action at the 12 Mid-Suburban League schools. How players respond will determine if the Patriots can stay up near the top of the team standings and claim the program's third state trophy, and possibly first state title, when the tourney wraps up Saturday at Buffalo Grove.
"We play some tough teams early and you have to battle through that," said fourth-year Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope. "We talk about how the back draw is of the utmost importance.
"Part of what makes a team successful is how mentally prepared you are to go in the back draw and help out the team. You can't roll over once you lose."
Two years ago, the Patriots were the young up-and-coming team with four freshmen and two sophomores leading the way to a third-place state trophy. Now all six players have state tourney experience for a team that shared the North Suburban Conference championship with defending state champion Lake Forest.
Senior Alexxis Kiven and junior Kendall Kirsch (26-1) got the top doubles seed and start play today at Wheeling. They were third in state two years ago, and then last year when Kirsch was injured, Kiven teamed with junior Kaylin Dong to take fourth.
And Dong and junior Michelle Tulchinskaya (25-1) got a 9-16 seed as their only loss is to Kiven and Kirsch in the sectional final. Dong and Tulchinskaya start today at Conant and could have a fourth-round meeting with No. 2 seeded Oak Park-River Forest's Taylor Arends and Tess Trinka, who were sixth last year.
Junior Zoe Manion (24-3) got a 9-16 seed and could see No. 2 Tiffany Chen of Naperville Central, who was fourth last year, in the fourth round. Junior Vinaya Rao (23-6) opens with MSL No. 1 singles champ and 9-16 seed Michelle Linden of Barrington.
"That's why we play difficult Saturdays, some of them with four matches in a day," Stanhope said. "We've played the hardest teams week in and week out so I think we're well-prepared."
Perennial power Hinsdale Central is young with three freshmen, but has the best seeds, led by its freshman doubles team of Danielle Burich and Erika Oku at 3-4. Lake Forest will try to defend its title with Elizabeth Zordani a 3-4 singles seed and her sister Christina at 9-16.
Lyons, with top singles seed Alex Chatt, New Trier and Glenbrook South will all be in the mix as well.
"There are some very interesting matchups," Stanhope said, "and you'll see a lot of big matchups earlier than usual. If I was a paying customer the round of 16 is the one I'd want to see."
Getting something for Grant-ed: One of the goals for Grant freshman Gaby Schoenberg was to bring some attention to a school that usually doesn't get it in tennis circles. Schoenberg (28-3) has done that by nabbing a 17-32 seed and becoming the girls' program's first singles qualifier since Molly O'Keefe in 1998.
Schoenberg opens today against Shannon Daniell of downstate Mattoon at Hoffman Estates. Schoenberg's group of eight also includes 9-16 seed Taylor Tamblyn of New Trier.
"I'm pretty happy with our draw," said Grant coach Shea Wintersteen. "I think we've got a really good chance to win a lot of matches."
Schoenberg was unbeaten and virtually unchallenged until she finished fourth in the North Suburban Conference tourney with losses to Lake Forest's Elizabeth Zordani and Stevenson's Zoe Manion. She lost a three-setter to Manion in the sectional championship.
But she was up 5-2 in the first set against Zordani and 5-4 in the second set of her first meeting with Manion. Wintersteen believes the increased season-ending competition was a good primer for Schoenberg to understand the importance of good footwork and fitness for this weekend.
"We've really worked with her on finishing up sets and keeping her confidence throughout matches," Wintersteen said. "She's becoming more relaxed playing these higher-caliber players and when she played (Manion) the second time she wasn't intimidated by her."
Blue Devils crew is ready: Not only is Warren bringing the maximum of six players to state for the first time, but sophomore Karyna Bihel (27-6) and junior Alex Mella (29-4) got 9-16 and 17-32 seeds respectively and the senior doubles team of Max Mella and Courtney Sunday got a 17-32 seed. Coach Vince DeSecki was hoping junior Mikayla Schultz and senior Lauren Vrabel might get seeded as well.
"The draws went great," DeSecki said. "I feel they can compete with anybody if they play the type of tennis they're capable of. Hopefully good things will happen."
The best thing would be if Warren could end up with its first state placewinners in girls' program history.
"We told them to have fun, compete and go as deep in the tournament as they can," DeSecki said. "We're really excited."
Wildcats duo puts it together: Libertyville senior Madeline Wagner and junior Aleksandra Grabowski played doubles together on and off the last two seasons. At times they played with other partners or played singles.
But Wagner and Grabowski teamed up again at the end of this season and went from fifth place at No. 1 in the rugged NSC to qualifying for state. They'll open play this morning at Prospect.
"They've had some really good wins and they've played really well the last couple of years," said Libertyville coach Dan Kiernan. "I'm happy to see them keep going and they're playing well right now. They're just getting some confidence and they've learned a few things here and there."
Kiernan said Grabowski prefers doubles but has been successful at singles. Wagner is more of the doubles player but did take second at singles in a tournament at Bloomington.
"She's been a hard worker for four years and she's put her time in," Kiernan said of Wagner. "She definitely deserves to have a good time and go downstate. I'm looking forward to them doing well."
Especially since Kiernan laughed that they don't have to start out by seeing Stevenson's top duo of Alexxis Kiven and Kendall Kirsch again.
"They got a nice draw and I think they look OK for a couple of rounds," Kiernan said. "They're ready to go and they don't seem to feel any kind of pressure."
Corsairs take care of business: Teams and athletes talk about treating big games and events as if they were business trips. Carmel's senior doubles team of Michelle Kannenberg and Kathleen Felicelli literally went on one between last weekend's sectional and their start of state tourney play today at Fremd as a 9-16 seed.
Kannenberg and Felicelli (29-3) went with their AP business class to New York City at the beginning of this week.
"It doesn't get any better," said Carmel coach Chris Kannenberg, who is Michelle's father. "They win conference (East Suburban Catholic), at sectionals they had a great outing, and then they take off for New York City and see the business district and NBC studios. It's awesome."
Kannenberg and Felicelli are looking for a successful end to a four-year trip together that has led to a 102-16 record. They made state as sophomores but injuries to Kannenberg's knee and Felicelli's wrist knocked them out of the postseason.
If seeds hold, they would face Lake Forest's 17-32 seed of Victoria Falk and Colleen Morris in the third round.
"I like where we are in the draw, but like any team, it depends on who shows up that day," Chris Kannenberg said. "They are ready for a fight."
So is junior singles qualifier Christina Rao (15-16), who moved up to No. 1 singles after rebounding from an elbow injury that kept her off the court for six months.
"The tougher competition made her tougher," Kannenberg said. "At the end it benefited her."