Grayslake Central makes a winning state-ment
Nikki Tatsuguchi was talking about her goals for the girls tennis season after winning the first singles title in the Grayslake Ram Knight Invitational on Saturday afternoon.
Grayslake Central coach Chuck Lawson overheard the discussion and felt the need to interrupt.
"State. State," Lawson said forcefully from a few feet away to his junior. "Keep that at the forefront. She's good enough to get there."
That's also the goal for Tatsuguchi's junior teammate Raquel Ruiz. She won the No. 2 singles title for the second straight year to help the Rams repeat as champions of the eight-team invite with 29 points.
The state tournament could be a possibility for the newly formed Antioch doubles team of senior Maddie Brost and freshman Kelsey Neville. They won the title at No. 1 and helped their team tie Wheeling for second place with 27 points. Grayslake North was fourth with 23.
Tatsuguchi joked that she wasn't expecting to have such a tough road with three-set, super-tiebreak wins over Wheeling freshman Hana Miller in the championship (6-2, 3-6, 10-4) and Antioch's Sjana Henderson in the semifinals (6-3, 5-7, 10-7). Miller had lost only 2 games in her first two matches.
"She was more warmed up in the second set and she was more consistent," Tatsuguchi said. "I knew I had to be more consistent and I had to focus on not hitting into the net like I did a lot in the second set. In the second set I was doing way too much."
Tatsuguchi said she played five to six days a week for two hours in the offseason to try and achieve her goal of making it to state this year or next year and eventually playing in college.
"I'm definitely more consistent," she said. "I'm going for it more and I'm not as timid as I used to be."
Ruiz lost only 3 games in three matches and beat Grayslake North's Alyssa Piekarz 6-0, 6-0 for the title. Ruiz said her improvement this season was evident in one of her two losses to Warren standout Alex Mella. Ruiz won 2 games from Mella after getting shut out last year.
"I feel I've gotten a lot better and I've played tennis a lot more than I ever have before," Ruiz said. "I played a lot more USTA people who were much better than me. I was always losing, but I love it because it's making me stronger and stronger.
"At each level of competition I try to be a little more focused than before. This year my goal is to get to state and I hope I can."
The Grayslakes and Antioch got some good news in that regard as they found out they are in the Lakes sectional. Warren will be in the field but Lake Forest and Stevenson were shipped elsewhere.
First-year Antioch coach Jamie D'Andrea put Neville and Brost together was to see if that might be their best path toward postseason success. Saturday's results were encouraging as they beat Grayslake North's Erin Hendrix and Emma Krostal 6-0, 6-2 for the title.
Brost said "it's not the same thing" about playing in practice with Neville.
"I didn't know what to expect but we did pretty well," Neville said.
They also showed how quickly they were able to bond and display a like-minded sense of humor.
"I've been playing singles since my freshman year," Brost said.
"I've been playing singles since my freshman year, too," Neville said with a smile about her first year in high school.
The Sequoits earned a tie for the second-place plaque when Emma DeJong and Elizabeth Gardner beat Wheeling 4-6, 6-3, 11-9 for the third doubles title. They also won the Niles West tournament team title and took second at Cary-Grove.
"The girls have been wearing medals the last couple of weeks," D'Andrea said. "I'm starting to expect it but I'm not sure they are.
"The girls are starting to recognize they can be a force to be reckoned with a little bit. It's a pretty young team ... but the level of intensity has risen at this point and everyone is sort of benefiting from (our youth)."
Grayslake Central's Lia Boucek and Michelle May won the second doubles title 6-3, 7-5.