Just a few days from committing to play at collegiately at Northwestern, Ben VanDixhorn put an exclamation point on a great week of high school tennis.
The talented lefty from Libertyville breezed through a trio of opponents on his way to the singles title at No. 1 during the annual Huskie-Knight Tennis Invite co-hosted by Mid-Suburban East schools Hersey and Prospect.
VanDixhorn, who will receive serious consideration for a 5-6 seeds when the state tournament committee gets together in late May, defeated Jacob Edelchik 6-1, 6-1 in his final.
VanDixhorn's sophomore teammate Stefano Tsorotiotis gave Libertyville coach Dan Kiernan a second title at No. 2 singles to help the Wildcats to a fourth-place finish overall.
Edelchik, one of many talented young players competing for Highland Park coach Steve Rudman, fueled an overwhelming 36-point victory for top team honors. Barrington took runner-up honors with 57 points. Oak Park-River Forest, which is in a rebuilding season after losing four-year standout Jeremy Dixon among others, took third with 42 points.
VanDixhorn, ranked 20th in the USTA Midwest ratings, finished his superb sophomore campaign a year ago with a 9-16 state seed and a 4-2 record at the state tourney, including three victories on the opening day, and a two-set loss to eventual runner-up Erich Marbach of Waubonsie Valley.
"I got a lot out of the tournament last year, particularly knowing that I belonged there with the top players, which I didn't realize until I got out on the court and played them for real," said Libertyville's affable junior. "I worked on all parts of my game during the off-season, and I know that time will really pay off when it counts. But it was that match with Marbach that really woke me up to see that I am right there if I continue to put in all the extra work that I need to do."
The three-year star lost his opening set to Marbach 7-6 (5) then dropped the second set 6-0, before earning a straight-set win over Justin Ancona. Jack Kasbeer of Deerfield would end his tournament run with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat.
"The first thing about Ben is he's a great kid, aside from tennis," said Kiernan. "He's a great teammate, and his game gets better and better each time out. He's gotten so much bigger and stronger since last year, and together with Stefano, he gives us a great 1-2 punch at singles, which now gives a chance against Lake Forest and Stevenson in the NSC."
Reigning MSL champ Barrington bounced back from its fifth-place finish a week ago at the Benet-Downers Grove South Team Championships to snare second-place. The Broncos' new No. 1 doubles team of Ishaan Jaglan and Scott Apmann looked as if the pair had been together for ages after marching easily into the finals, where Highland Park's team of Max Gordon and David Aizenberg prevailed in two sets.
"We got an important win against the No. 1 team from Libertyville in the semifinals, and that could help us in sectionals later on, but we played really well together for the first time because of our chemistry -- and Scott, who has the best volleys on this team," said Jaglan, who moved over from the No. 1 spot at singles to join up with Apmann, an MSL champ at No. 4 doubles last season.
Barrington's Nick Arder and Ryan Cooper proved too much for the field at No. 4 as they captured top honors, while over at No. 3, the Broncos' Henry Klest and Tino Chiambas helped their club with a second-place medal.
Warren earned 6 points on the day, most of them coming at No. 1 doubles where the veteran duo of Samuel Gudeman and John Westerberg overcome a tough start to finish fifth overall after a 6-2, 6-1 defeat against OPRF.
Westerberg, a senior bound for Illinois next fall to study biomedical engineering, won 25 matches last season while playing anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 doubles. The Blue Devils co-captain teammed up with Matt Matheny, a three-time state qualifier, while Gudeman was on the injured list with a severe concussion. Since they've been reunited, Gudeman and Westerberg have been playing well.
"Samuel and I have been playing well so far (with a 9-4 record)," said Westerberg, "but we haven't executed as well as we can. But we will as we continue to play and get even more comfortable.
"Obviously, Lake Forest and Stevenson are the teams to beat in our conference, but we feel we can make a run at both of them when tournament time comes around."
"We'll take our aim at those two teams," said Gudeman, "and like John, I believe we can raise our game when it counts later on."
Gudeman was out of action for six-plus weeks after a concussion during the basketball season forced him to miss that much time in school, as well as on the playing field.
When the senior was finally able to return, he teammed up with Matheny to go 3-2 at the state tournament.
"The hardest thing to get back was my hand-eye coordination," Gudeman said. "It was tough, but once it was back, Matt and I got together and played some pretty good tennis together."
Two-time state qualifier Carson Burke of Prospect kept things positive, despite after having what new coach Tom Kujawa called an off day by his top player.
"We have a very good team," said Burke, who will attend of Wisconsin next fall and enter its engineering program. "A top doubles team, with Ralph (Tenuta) and Sam (Tambeaux), and an enthusiastic and great new coach in Tom Kujawa, who had a great career at Prospect and someone who is really good for this team.
"Ever since Tom was hired, he's worked us hard with our conditioning, and with the mental and physical aspects of this game, and he's continued to be a positive influence on all of us while building our confidence at the same time."
Kujawa and Co. are hoping their experiences early lead to better results later this season.
"We had a tough day all the way around," said Kujawa, "but I told the guys the only way you learn is from days like this -- and it's how you learn from all of this that's key in your improvement and progress as a player."
Kujawa was pleased with the efforts of junior Keaton Keller, who was third overall at No. 3 singles, along with those of Danny Dolan and Kevin Morton at No. 3 doubles and Sean Roberts and Steven Schmidt at No. 4 doubles.