Sailing through first-round matches at the girls state tennis tournament has been anything but smooth for Warren sophomore Karyna Bihel.
Bihel, the North Suburban Conference No. 1 singles runnerup, entered Thursday's opening day of play with a 9-16 seed. She found herself in a battle that went into a third set with standout Elk Grove freshman Jelena Vujanic.
But Bihel (30-6) got through it 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 and then cruised to a pair of straight-set victories at Elk Grove to advance to today's championship round of 16 for the second straight year.
"Last year's first match was kind of hard for me, too," Bihel said of a 6-4, 6-3 win. "I came in this year hoping I would play well. That was my main goal and to give my all."
Stevenson did all it wanted in the first day to stay in the title hunt as it sits fourth with 21 points, behind defending champion Lake Forest (24) and Hinsdale Central and New Trier (22). The doubles teams of Kendall Kirsch and Alexxis Kiven and Kaylin Dong and Michelle Tulchinskaya, and Zoe Manion in singles, advanced to the round of 16 and Vinaya Rao remains alive in the backdraw.
Bihel beat Charleston's Maegan Flight 6-2, 6-0 and Maine South's Leigh Friedman 6-1, 6-1 to advance to today's 9 a.m. match at Hersey with 5-8 seed Lexie Petrovic of Nazareth. The winner advances to today's quarterfinals at Buffalo Grove.
Thursday's start against Vujanic was the hardest part for Bihel.
"In the first set I didn't play scared but in the second set I kind of got a little tight," Bihel said. "I wasn't going for it as much and I wasn't hitting my usual shots.
"In the third set in the first game it was the same thing, but I knew I really wanted to win. I kind of overcame my fear and played like I did in the first set."
It carried over into her next two matches as she looks to better her 4-2 finish of a year ago when she lost in the round of 16.
"I played a lot better in the second round so that makes me happy," Bihel said. "In the third match, I knew she was good because I played her before, so I came ready to battle and played really well."
Bihel almost had company in the round of 16 but junior teammate Alex Mella (31-5), a 17-32 seed, lost a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 heartbreaker to 9-16 seeded junior Kayleigh Thurwalker of Belleville West. Thurwalker overcame a 2-1 second-set deficit and a 40-15 deficit in the final game where Mella battled through leg cramps to hit some impressive winners.
Mella will play Dhanya Asokumar of Chicago U-High in today's 8 a.m. fourth-round consolation bracket match at Fremd.
"When she grabbed her leg I knew she was in trouble," said Warren assistant coach Michael Edler. "I give (Thurwalker) credit because she kept Alex out there and she was getting balls back that quite honestly Alex thought she had hit and won.
"At the changeover when it was 6-5 (third set) I said to Alex, 'If you've got a chance to rip, you've got to rip,' and that's what she did."
Stevenson, which is shooting for its third state trophy and second in three years, saw the top-seeded duo of Kirsch and Kiven (29-1) lose only 2 games in three matches. They'll face 9-16 seed Catherine Orfanos and Margaux Miller of rival Lake Forest in a pivotal 9 a.m. match at BG.
Dong and Tulchinskaya (28-1), a 9-16 seed, lost only 2 games in their first 2 wins before beating Lyons' Jillian Kaehler and Maggie Schwartz 6-3, 7-5. They'll face second-seeded Taylor Arends and Tess Trinka of Oak Park-River Forest at 9 a.m. at BG.
"Lyons had a nice team and they played well," said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope. "We've never had to work that hard for a win. This team made us hit a lot of balls and we had to be a little more patient and work for every point."
Manion (27-3), an 9-16 seed, won all of her matches in straight sets to get a shot at second-seeded Tiffany Chen of Naperville Central at 9 a.m. today at Hersey. Rao (26-7) lost her first match to Barrington's Michelle Linden but won her three backdraw matches and will face Glenbard West's Caroline Maltby in the consolation fourth round at Wheeling.
Lake Forest got everyone through to the round of 16 - Christina and Elizabeth Zordani at singles and Victoria Falk and Colleen Morris at doubles after their 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) win over Carmel's Michelle Kannenberg and Kathleen Felicelli. New Trier and Hinsdale Central are in the same position as Stevenson with three in the round of 16 and one in the backdraw.
"With tough draws and the (cold and windy) conditions, I'm pretty happy with the way we played," Stanhope said.
Warren also has everyone still playing as their doubles teams of Max Mella and Courtney Sunday and Mikayla Schultz and Lauren Vrabel rebounded from first-round losses to reach today's fourth round consolation bracket.
Felicelli and Kannenberg (31-4) won their first two matches in straight sets before moving into the backdraw. Teammate Christina Rao won her opening match and went 2-2.
Grant freshman Gaby Schoenberg (31-4) rebounded from a three-set, second-round loss to win her next two matches in straight sets and stay alive in today's backdraw. Libertyville's Madeline Wagner and Aleksandra Grabowski lost a tough two-set opener with a tiebreaker but won their first consolation-bracket match before getting eliminated.