This weekend's Class 2A St. Charles East girls' tennis sectional is loaded with top talent but that's not deterring Upstate Eight Conference entrants such as Bartlett, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North.
That sectional also includes the likes of DeKalb, Glenbard West, West Chicago, Wheaton North and Wheaton-Warrenville South.
St. Charles North coach Sean Masoncup is high on his doubles team of Shelby Thomas and freshman Emaira Saini that finished 20-1 this season. Saini won a conference No. 2 singles title this year for the North Stars, who finished second to Geneva in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
"We are excited to see how the can perform," said Masoncup. "They have a chance if they play well to get a top 16 seed at state if they finish in the top two at our sectional. It will be tough because our sectional is loaded, but I am confident they will play well. They have really started to click and I think they can make a run in the coming days."
Masoncup's team had success throughout the dual-meet portion of the season, winning all its contests 6-1 with the exception to a loss against Geneva.
"I'm most impressed with our ability to get better every day," he said. "They worked their tails off all season. Coming in, most thought we would finish in fourth place, but we gave Geneva a run for the title, which shows how hard these young ladies worked."
Geneva won a conference title for the fourth year in a row. Caroline Lahey (No. 1 singles) and Alex Cappelli (No. 3 singles) won singles conference titles, while the teams of Grace Hahn/Jaden Ciesielski (No. 1), Shelby Johnson/Emma Henderson (No. 2) and Helena Corda/Nisha Hawkins (No. 4) won doubles titles. Lahey brings a 19-8 record into the sectional, while Hahn and Ciesielski are 21-1.
"Our sectional is going to be tough. There are a lot of good teams and competition," said Geneva coach Zach Evans. "Caroline has a good shot to make it out at singles and both Hahn and Ciesielski and Henderson and Johnson I think have good chances at success in doubles. They all will have to play their best tennis this weekend."
Evans has particularly been impressed with the Lahey's development. "Caroline has upped her game since last year," he said. "She is more consistent and more aggressive going for winners. Last year she might have been more content to stay in a point. This year she is winning points."
Evans' club has had to work through some injuries this year. "No matter who has been playing what spot, we have been competitive," he said.
Batavia took third in the River and had five sophomores and one freshman in the starting lineup at the end of the regular season. Sophomore Morgan Steinys (22-4) took second at No. 2 singles, while the No. 1 doubles team of senior Megan Granberg and sophomore Madison Ostrander took second. Junior Grayson Ferrell and sophomore Sophie Cange were second at No. 2 doubles.
Durso and Ostrander will be paired together at the sectional. Durso was a state qualifier last year in doubles, while Ostrander has won 49 matches in the No. 1 doubles spot over the past two seasons. Ostrander has 23 victories this season, while Durso has 17 in singles. They are 5-2 together this season.
Batavia's top three singles win totals this season came from sophomores Steinys (22-4), Durso (17-12) and Hailey Flannagan (16-8). Batavia coach Brad Nelson lauded the development of Steinys in the singles division and Cange in doubles this season.
"Morgan played No. 4 doubles last season and made the transition to singles this year and has lost only four matches, three of which were third-set tiebreakers," he said. "Sophie played No. 4 singles and had some spot doubles starts last season, but leads the team with 25 wins this season."
Granberg moved from No. 3 doubles last year to No. 1 doubles this year. "She had a strong showing in the conference tournament," said Nelson.
St. Charles East was fourth in the conference and coach Matt Buhlman noted all of his entrants outplayed their tournament seeds. Chantel Carranza and Nicole McGraw won the No. 3 doubles title.
St. Charles East's No. 2 doubles team of Elena Melone and Jamie McDermott are 27-10, while the No. 1 doubles unit of Katie McCarthy and Claudia Field are 16-10. No. 1 singles player Reema Dhar has 12 wins.
"Doubles at sectionals will be anybody's guess," said Buhlman. "Glenbard West has a great team at the first seed but the remaining seeds and the next five or six doubles teams can all beat each other on any given days. I like our chances at doubles. Singles will be very tough with a ton of Top 8 kids returning from Wheaton-Warrenville South, Glenbard West and Wheaton North."
Buhlman noted Melone and McDermott played on and off last year at No. 4 doubles and jumped to No. 2 this year and have nearly 30 wins. "Incredible," said Buhlman.
Carranza, an all-state soccer player, and McGraw were the No. 4 seed at the conference tournament and upset Geneva and St. Charles North to win at No. 3 doubles. "I couldn't be prouder of those two," said Buhlman.
Bartlett coach Colleen Brandner has a young team this season. Juniors Lindsey Stoefen and Aubrey Celmer lead the way at No. 1 doubles. "Both girls were new last year and have dramatically improved this season," she said.
Sophomore Nia Cheshmedjieva made it to the conference semifinals at No. 1 singles this season. "Nia is one to watch for the next two years," said Brandner.
The Class 2A Lake Park sectional is loaded with area teams as well with Jacobs, Dundee-Crown, Elgin, Larkin, South Elgin and Streamwood part of the field there.
Jacobs is coming off its fourth Fox Valley Conference title in a row with championship performances from the senior No. 1 doubles team of Haley Steinkamp and Kylie Skepnek, the junior No. 2 doubles team of Ramya Nissankula and Brianna Japkowski, as well as the No. 3 doubles team of senior Amber Seong and junior Paige Shiakallis. Rebecca Mudge, a junior, won the No. 3 singles title. Nissankula leads the team this season with a 29-4 record, while sophomore No. 1 singles player Lindsay Cunningham (third in the FVC) is 20-13.
Jacobs coach Jon Betts anticipates Cunningham getting the No. 4 seed at the sectional. "I think our doubles teams have a realistic chance of heading in as the top two seeds given their strong performances this season," he said.
Steinkamp and Skepnek, in particular, have stepped things up in a big way, Betts noted. "Haley and Kylie have been nearly untouchable," he said. "The way they are currently playing and the improvements they have been making bode well for them in the sectionals and beyond. I'm very excited to see what they are capable of in the postseason."
Elgin's Marta Krakowski, a returning two-time state qualifier (3-2 at state last year), brings a 23-6 mark into the sectional. Krakowski finished second at No. 1 singles in the UEC River.
"Marta has the skills and has improved," said Elgin coach Ming Chai. "Her ground strokes are very strong and she is moving faster to set up her shots. Her serve keeps getting stronger and here placements and consistency have improved. She has a chance to go deep."
Larkin is led by junior No. 1 singles player Stephanie Lopez (10 wins) and sophomore No. 3 singles player Alitza Munoz. Juniors Crystal Ortiz and Diana Molina finished with nine wins in the doubles division.
"I want to see our kids get a win and have some success even if it's just games instead of matches," said Larkin coach Kevin Schillerstrom. "We've improved from when we started the season to now. We've played a lot of good competition and the kids have improved because of that. This season has been different because we have so many young kids who have just started out on varsity. They've taken everything in stride and have really improved."
Munoz drew high praise from Schillerstrom. "Alitza went from playing exhibition fourth singles to No. 3 singles. She's our youngest player and she worked her way up to No. 3 and has a winning record," he said.
Streamwood senior Alaina Kanthaphixay took third at No. 1 singles at conference and has a 16-2 record at that position this season. "Alaina should have a good shot at making it to state this year," said Streamwood coach Kristina Sawyer. "Last year she was injured, but she made state in 2015 and won 2 matches."
Sawyer also saw improvement this season from Emily Jarmillo at No. 2 singles. She won the Larkin invite this year and took fifth at conference. "Emily has done a great job," said Sawyer. "She played No. 1 last year when Alaina was out and I think it made her a much better player, especially defensively. She always works hard to improve and it has paid off."
South Elgin coach Melissa Tuftedal likes the chances of doubles teams Vivian Nguyen and Serena Nguyen and Madison Waichunas and Andrea Michel at the sectional. The Nguyens won the UEC Valley title at No. 1 doubles, while Waichunas and Michel won the No. 2 doubles title and bring a 15-4 record into the sectional. Waichunas and Michel played singles earlier in the season.
"Both of these teams have beaten a lot of the teams we have in our sectional," said Tuftedal.
Vivian Nguyen and Waichunas have taken their games a step higher this season, the coach noted. "Vivian knows where to place the ball when under pressure and Madison has stepped up her game with her serve," said Tuftedal. "Her serve at times can be a threat to her opponent."
Huntley and Hampshire are part of the Harlem sectional up on Machesney Park. Huntley turned in its best-ever season with a 25-5 record.
Alex Landman and Kayley Roche bring a 29-7 record into the sectional with coach Barry Wells feeling the team should get a Top 2 seed at Harlem. The No. 2 doubles team of Merritt Whiteside and Allison Simons is 15-5.
Huntley graduated a lot of players from last year's team and lost two starters midway through the season to injury, yet turned in a 25-win season. "We still managed to have a very successful and deep team because everyone stepped up," said Wells. "Moving Alex from No. 1 singles to No. 1 doubles this year took some adjusting and learning on the fly but eventually Alex and Kayley found great chemistry and their skills complement each other on the court. This move gave our team depth at doubles and I had strong newcomers to singles."
Junior Carina Bowman (16-5) had never played singles prior to this fall, but Wells noted her speed, determination and overall athletic ability allowed her to have a fine season at No. 2 singles, while freshman Michelle Barnvos (12-1) took second at No. 3 singles. "Michelle also is very strong mentally and physically and had an amazing year," said Wells.
Riley Conradt and Maddy Domek took second at No. 3 doubles at the FVC tournament.
Hampshire's Alexis Foster (No. 1 singles) brings a 13-7 mark into the sectional, while the No. 2 doubles team of Cam Barrientos and Kaylee Patthana have won 7 matches.
In addition to Foster, Hampshire coach Stephanie Rahimi has seen No. 2 singles player Mari Byker up her game as well. "Both have made incredible progress from last season," she said. "Last season they began as exhibition players. Their determination and competitiveness has allowed them to have many excellent matches this season."
Crystal Lake South and Cary-Grove head to the Stevenson sectional. The Gators finished second in the FVC and had six third-or-higher place finishes, including senior Lauren Schoen (25-0) winning the No. 2 singles title.
Veteran coach Don Nead pegs junior No. 1 singles player Skylar Olson (22-7, second FVC) and the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Julia Kopfman and Claire Atkinson (21-7, second FVC) as his best bets to get out of "the tough Stevenson sectional," he said.
Cary-Grove heads to Harlem with No. 1 singles player Bethany Marshall fresh off winning the FVC No. 1 singles title. "This is a first for Cary-Grove," said coach Laurie Bender of the No. 1 singles championship. "Bethany has worked hard all season."
Marshall is 18-3 at No. 1 singles, while Kaitlin Warner is 21-9 at No. 2 singles with six of her matches in the No. 1 slot. Bender is hopeful Marshall can get a No. 4 seed in the sectional, while Elizabeth Barrett and Katie Sowa, she added, might get a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
"The girls have worked hard all season," said Bender. "They are self-starters. They never needed to be told to warm up prior to a match or a practice."
In Class 1A, Aurora Central Catholic and Rosary are at the Joliet Catholic sectional, while Elgin Academy is at the Rochelle sectional.
ACC No. 1 singles player Giselle Salazar was third at the Metro Suburban Conference tournament, while the Chargers' top doubles teams of Claire McCarthy and Kayla Siemann and Mackenzie Van Whye and Jackie Lilliwitz both finished ahead of their seed and beat a team they failed to beat earlier in the season. "We are proud of that accomplishment," assistant coach Allison Stevenson said.
Stevenson said Salazar could make some noise in the singles division at the sectional. "Giselle has played well throughout the season and earned a No. 2 seed at the conference tournament. It's been our goal for her to make it out of sectional since the beginning of the year. She certainly has taken it to the next level on and off the court. She's a very talented player who takes every point to heart. She is both strategic and powerful, and her serves are something to be feared. Overall, she's been an excellent example for every member of our team. As a captain she showed up every day with the intention of improving her game and playing with love."
Stevenson also lauded the development of McCarthy. "She is new to tennis this year and was able to competitively play on the first doubles team," she said. "Any time you watch Claire on the court you can see just how much she cares and wants to succeed. She's a player filled with passion."