It was a nearly perfect day for Stevenson tennis Friday afternoon, but the story of the day was the success of the Vernon Hills doubles team of David Dobrik/Nikita Lunkov.
In dramatic fashion and on their home courts, the duo rode the wave of momentum right into next weekend's state tournament.
The sectional host Patriots easily advanced their two doubles teams plus sophomore Benjamin Bush in singles, while the Libertyville duo of Ben VanDixhorn and Stefano Tsorotiotis left little doubt as to their status at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex.
Junior Kevin Hunt of Carmel will make his first appearance at state after a hard-fought straight-set victory over Brian Weisberg of Stevenson, while Barrington's No. 1 team of Ishaan Jaglin-Scott Apmann (9-5) will join Hunt for their maiden voyage to the big show.
The last and perhaps best matchup of the day came when Dobrik/Lunkov (25-4) came back from near defeat to stun Matt Mulligan/Vijay Tripuraneni (22-9) of Barrington in a three-set thriller which nearly ran three hours before the Cougars tandem recorded a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 triumph.
"Wow!" were the first words from Cougars coach Doug Gerber after watching twosome come all the way back from a 5-2 third-set deficit to draw even following a six-deuce game, then hold before breaking Tripuraneni to seal a spot in the state tournament and a spot opposite No. 1 seed Colin Harvey/Andrew Komarov of Stevenson, who cruised into Saturday's 9 a.m. semifinals.
"That Barrington team was one tough team, but even when our guys looked to be down and out, I knew they weren't (because) they never, ever give in," Gerber said.
"We haven't lost a tiebreaker all year, but we never gave in, even when it was 5-2," said Lunkov.
Last season, Dobrik joined Ismail Kadarov to earn one of the 64 spots in the state field.
The Patriots' Adam Maryniuk-Ryan Harvey (17-3) were impressive from the get-go, especially in a 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Carmel in their state qualifying match.
"We were clicking out there today, and when we play like that, we feel we can compete at a pretty high level," said Maryniuk, a junior who two years ago qualified for state.
"Our level of execution has gotten so much better since we first came together," said Harvey, a freshman, "and that's a big reason for our success of late."
Bush returns to state for a second straight year following a 6-1, 6-1 win over Zach Hennenfent of Barrington.
"I am real happy and excited about returning to state, and I feel that going into the tournament,I am much more physically and mentally ready for playing there this year," said Bush.
Carmel's Hunt couldn't have been happier after his long two-setter with Weisberg, who had the junior on the ropes in the second set before Hunt fired back to take control for good.
"It was 2-4, and 40-love, and it was looking like we would go to a third set. But I feel that I stayed composed, and just tried to hit winners and try to get back even -- which was a little tough because he was very consistent and seemed to hit everything back for most of our match," Hunt. said. "All I know is that it feels good to finally advance after missing out the last two years."
Hunt will meet Tsorotiotis next .The Libertyville freshman had little trouble with his two opponents and managed to finish at nearly the same time as his teammate VanDixhorn (27-4), who needed less than an hour to eliminate his foes.
"I felt really good out there today, and it was good to get finished early so I can get home and rest," said VanDixhorn, a junior. "These past two weekends at the Deerfield Invite, and our conference tournament has really helped prepare me for what's coming up."
The Jaglin/Apmann team had all it could handle and more with Lake Zurich's Thomas Petrovic/Kolton Reitsch until eventually dispatching the Bears 6-0, 3-6, 6-2.
"What a relief," said Jaglin. "This makes up for missing out the last two years, and I am so happy for Scott and myself."
His partner was quick to point out a key moment in their eventual winning match.
"Ish kind of tweaked something and he fought through it to help us get through," Apmann said, "Especially that first game of the third set, when we went up for good at 2-1."
The loss was a tough one to say the least for the Bears, but coach Aaron Rogers took the time afterward to recognize the efforts of Petrovic and Reitsch.
"Those two were my No. 3 doubles team last year, and they came back this year to finish fifth at the NSC tournament and one set away from qualifying -- which is something, when you consider we never really talked about how we might do here earlier in the year," said Rogers. "The special thing about those two is how much they have grown as leaders and teammates since they came aboard three years ago, and what they did today was just icing on the cake. They gave themselves a chance to advance, and that's about all you could ask of those two."