Scouting boys tennis
The winds of change blew in during the off-season, bringing four new coaches into the league. At the same time, several high-level players have either moved onto college or chosen to go the USTA route instead.
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Some things remain the same, however -- such as Fremd and Barrington the favorites in the Mid-Suburban West, while Prospect, under former star Tom Kujawa, looks to lead the effort in the MSL East.
Barrington coach John Roncone will be without a true veteran at No. 1 after four-year standout Varun Parekh graduated to took Washington University in St. Louis following a brilliant prep career.
"It's a whole new look for us," said Roncone, whose team won four individual titles at the MSL tourney last year to outscore both Fremd and Prospect and capture the big trophy. "We're going to have a go at it with several guys who have had success at the lower levels but haven't had a taste of playing top-level teams and players each and every weekend. But we're confident they can handle it, and we're very exited about the opportunity to compete against a team like Fremd, which once again appears to be the one to beat in our division."
Roncone will ask one of his few veterans, Akash Khurana, to handle No. 1 after a year at No. 2 behind Parekh. MSL doubles champs at No. 4 in 2013, Matt Mulligan and Scott Apmann, take a big step forward to become the Broncos' No. 1 tandem.
The Vikings lost plenty, including four-year standout Maciej Niemcyzk and Sudheer Vundru. But Fremd coach Matt Duncan remains optimistic about his club's chances, thanks in part to the return of four starters from a year ago. One of them is senior Eric Pohl, who teamed with Vundru to win three matches in the state tournament.
"Eric's game is looking so strong right now, and I really feel his improved power and consistency will allow him to give anybody a run for his money in the conference," said Duncan of his captain, who rehabbed a fractured vertebra during the off-season.
Duncan figures Kiran Devaraj, who was forced to serve underhand last year due to a shoulder injury, is ready to assume the role of No. 2.
Schaumburg sensation Vincent Lin, who during his first two seasons wowed the conference as well as the state with eye-popping tennis, in not playing high school this spring. That makes Rolling Meadows sophomore Matt Galvin the clear top man in the conference.
During his freshman season, Galvin won the MSL singles title, then later earned a 17-32 seed, before winning three times in the state tournament.
Galvin will lead another strong Mustangs team that returns many of the components from its regular-season divisional winner. That inlcudes Prithi Ramesh (No. 2) and the doubles team of Matt Kudla and Tejo Nutalapati, who'll handle the top spot for coach Gary Brodnan.
Prospect is putting in plenty of effort under Kujawa, who was not only known for his gritty play on the court but also a strong work ethic off of it.
"The team is constantly improving each day, both physically and mentally, and they have great potential for success as long they continue to focus on the tasks at hand which will prepare us for the MSL and weekend tournaments as well," said the 2008 alum.
Prospect will have a nice blend of developing and proven talent. Kujawa will lean heavily on his No. 1, Carson Burke, a four-year veteran who earned a second trip to the state tournament last season.
The duo of Ralph Tenuta and Sam Tambeaux are back to handle the No. 1 spot at doubles, and are among the early favorites in the MSL after a full year together in 2013.
Dave Koleno's title of head coach at Conant is new in name only as this veteran of several years as an assistant at his alma mater, Prospect, along with subsequent stints at Fremd and Conant, takes over for Amar Patel, who stepped aside to pen a novel, while running the Patel household at the same time.
Koleno has been impressed with the early work from Connor Sacks, who last season was the other half of the Cougars' state doubles team with Peter Itskovich. They were terrific for two days, going 4-2 and bowing out in the sixth round of the consolation bracket.
"Connor has really impressed thus far, and his leadership is something I will be looking for from him to help some of our younger guys during the early going," said Koleno, who says he'll stress higher percentage shots, smart tennis and getting to the net more at doubles.
Koshi Ishii will be a solid No. 2 behind Sacks, while the duo of Matt Meyers and Glenn Huang (No. 3 last year) takes over at the top spot for the Cougars.
When the action picks up on the courts, you can bet Jim Lange will have his Palatine players ready to go.
The one constant in Pirates tennis during the past several years, Lange always has his club ready on match day and can be counted on for a honest and positive comment or two on his counterparts in the league.
"Palatine tennis is as big as ever, with 55 student-athletes on the roster, 20 of which are seniors," said Lange. "Thanks to the patience of my assistant, Bruce Wedell, we've had super-competitive tryout sessions. And with a no-cut program, we've tried to be as fair as we can in order to give everyone their best chance to succeed."
Lange will have sophomore David Chon penciled in as his No. 1, with Mark Scovic as the No. 2, while senior David Pichler is back to form half of the Pirates' top doubles team alongside Leo Moslemian.
"Barrington and Fremd always seem to reload each season, so I see them as the favorites in our division, Mack (Galvin) is a rising star after a great first time appearance at the state tournament, and Prospect is going to be solid a well," said Lange. "The MSL should have one of its best groups at singles this year, and it should be fun to watch as the season goes on."
Mike Naughton takes over for Kevin Schrammel at Buffalo Grove, who now carries the title of the girls state tournament meet director. And Andy Walton is now in charge at Hersey.
Central SuburbanIn the talent-rich CSL, it's usually state power New Trier dominating the action in late May, with others such as Deerfield, Glenbrook North and South plus Highland Park having a strong say.
Looking to join the group of powerful teams is coach Derrick Swistak and his club from Maine West. The Warriors' Dominic Budzik and George Stoitzev advanced into the state tournament last season, ending a long dry spell for the Warriors.
"That was a tremendous accomplishment for both Dominic and George, but it was also terrific for the team, and the program as well," said Swistak, who saw the tandem go 1-2 on the first day of the tournament.
Both have moved on, though, and Swistak has just one back from a group of 26 players between varsity and JV.
Captain Patrick Czuj will be the Warriors' No. 1, and his coach feels the 6-foot-2 three-year veteran's improved game, complete with kick serve, will earn him plenty of victories at the top of the lineup.
Swistak likes the quartet of sophomore Henry Nguyen (No. 2 singles), Jaime Capitello, Jackson Torkelson and Miguel Hernandez and is expecting quality work from them. Nguyen played No. 3 singles during his freshman season, and his swing, and tactical approach have grown by leaps and bounds during the off-season.
East Suburban CatholicBenet and Carmel appear to be the class of the league once again, but Alex Bocian sees St. Viator as a club which should be competitive this spring and long into the future, thanks to a solid group of newcomers.
"We're going to lean on our three seniors (Sean Abuel, Jacob Nottoli, Jeff Madden) for leadership, and for them to act as mentors to the younger guys because of their knowledge and experience while the younger guys find their way as they battle for spots in the starting lineup," says Bocian. The coach projects Nottoli at No. 1 after a fourth-place finish at the ESCC tournament last season at No. 2 singles.
Freshmen Kyle Borst is the likely candidate for No. 2 singles, while Abuel teams up with Jack Neubauer at No. 1 doubles, followed by teammates Sean Culm and John Jodoin.
Defending champion Carmel lost most of its starting lineup from its 8-0-0 title team, but the return of Kevin Hunt and Michael Butler will help the Corsairs take a run at Benet. The Redwings not only welcome back state qualifiers Noah Reed and Stephen Kovach, but have added a player with USTA experience, Patrick McGuigen.
Big pictureIn the world of high school tennis here in Illinois, it's Hinsdale Central ... then everyone else. The Red Devils demolished the field last season with a star-studded lineup. Unfortunately for the rest of the tournament field, nearly all are back, including state champion Martin Joyce along with Eddie Grabill, who was one-half of the doubles championship team with the departed Harold Martin. Add the superb Michael Lorenzini, who finished third at singles, behind Joyce and Jasper Koenen (St. Charles East) and there you have it.
"Hinsdale is clearly well ahead of everyone else, they're just stacked from top to bottom," said New Trier coach Tad Eckert, who last weekend watched Central win its second consecutive title at the prestigious DecoTurf Invitational in Louisville.
The Trevians, always in the conversation for a top-three finish, lost plenty from its 2013 club. But New Trier does return a wonderfully talented singles player in Alex Galoustian, as well as the doubles team of Scott and Tom Bickel, who won four times at the state tourney a year ago.
Eckert likes the chances of both Stevenson and Lake Forest when May rolls around in the NSC, despite the one-two punch of Ben VanDixhorn and newcomer Stefano Tsorotiotis of Libertyville.
After a year way from yet another top five finish, Highland Park appears to be back, with lofty goals likely to be reached, with upstart Glenbrook North ready to make a move as well.
Long-time coach Steve Rudman will have a highly entertaining group at Highland Park that includes a trio of freshmen led by Jacob Edelchik, plus the return of two others, Max Gordon and Nick Zazove, who went the USTA route last season.
Glenbrook North added a pair of talented rookies to go along with its state doubles team of David Zakhodin and Miguel Perez, both juniors.
Both Edwardsville and downstate Morton have plenty of firepower at doubles, with each returning a doubles team with state experience. Jack Deese-Logan Ware are back for Edwardsville, and Trent and Grant return for Morton.
"For me, Edwardsville is primed to have one of their best teams of all time because of their sensational doubles team, plus Brandon Harris and a big-time freshman to give them a great No. 1 and 2 at singles," said Metamora coach Kelly Willard, whose team is after a sixth straight top-15 finish.
Save the date:Benet-Downers Grove South Invite (4-12):
This will be one of the better tournaments of the early season, with state powers Hinsdale Central and New Trier the headline acts, along with Barrington and host clubs Benet and Downers Grove South. The Mustangs, with returning stars Tony Leto and Christian San Andres, could make a serious run at at a top-eight finish in the state tournament.
Knights-Huskie Invite (4-19):
Always a diverse field, with perennial powers Highland Park and Oak Park-River Forest among the top programs in attedance. Barrington, Hersey and Prospect will have a chance to see where they are against two of the best.
Deerfield quad: (4-19):
Fremd will get an up close and personal look at NSC, and state powers Stevenson and Lake Forest in this annual quad hosted by the Warriors, who for the first time in recent memory, will not have a true No. 1 ace in its lineup. Both the Patriots and Scouts do, however, with the No. 1 doubles team from Stevenson, Andrew Komarov and Colin Harvey looking to improve on its third-place state finish from a year ago.
Pitchford '32' (5-2, 5-3):
The who's who in tennis will appear in this two-day mini-state tournament, which begins the countdown to the real thing 4 weeks later at Hersey. Area fans will have the chance to see Edwardsville, Metamora and Morton, who each have the chance to crash the state's top six in late May. Coaches have one last opportunity to refine or reconfigure their starting lineups, especially at doubles, where many a potential top seeds have been seen here for the first time of the season.
-- Mike Garofola