Classic wins for Kirsch, Stevenson
It was all Stevenson at the annual Prospect Fall Classic on Saturday morning.
The Patriots punctuated their performance with triumphant cry as they were handed the plaque for first-place honors after amassing 74 points. Out of the seven slots, the Patriots sent six teams to the finals, and five of them emerged victorious.
New Trier took second place with 64 points and Highland Park posted 48 points for third as Prospect, Hersey, Buffalo Grove, Conant, Fremd, St. Viator and Libertyville competed in the 16-team invitational. Hersey and Libertyville tied for seventh place with 26 points.
"It's good to be tested in a tournament like this, seeing the kids really hit the ball," said Patriots coach Tom Stanhope. "(2013 state qualifier) Zoe Manion was out, so we had to have the doubles play up one slot (Saturday) in the lineup. There are some very good teams that play here.
"We have a lot of options. We have been successful and have a deep spread throughout singles and doubles. Everyone on the team brings contributions."
All eyes were on the No. 1 singles final, as Stevenson senior Kendall Kirsch, a doubles state champ last season, met 2013 single state qualifier and quarterfinalist Taylor Tamblyn of New Trier.
Kirsch and Tamblyn were in a dogfight that lasted over three hours. Injuries were sustained, deuces were traded and parents, teammates and onlookers received a glimpse of an exciting possible state tournament matchup.
The first set was taken by Kirsch 7-5. Both players had physical challenges in the second set (Tamblyn had arm issues, while Kirsch battled a quad issue), but both battled through and Tamblyn forced a third set after winning 7-6 (7-3).
The third set was tied at 5-5 and reached deuce once again, with the advantage to Kirsch.
On a power shot to the corner of the court from Tamblyn, Kirsch was able to reach and return the shot. This mesmerizing get led to a drop shot with significant backspin. It not only broke the 5-5 tie, but also shifted the momentum toward Kirsch.
Kirsch (16-0) ultimately won 7-5, 6-7, 7-5 over Tamblyn (9-1 in singles, 7-0 in doubles).
"She's the leader of this team," Stanhope said of Kirsch. "She had already gone three sets in the semifinals against (Loyola singles player Maggie Hines). I said to (Kirsch) that she'd already been pushed and you've been fighting a long day. You have to find it in you.
"She should be proud with a good win against good opponents. She is a fighter."
Stevenson champions also included Zoe Taylor at No. 2 singles, Michelle Tulchinskaya/Bronwyn Heidkamp at No. 2 doubles, Kaylin Dong at No. 3 singles and an undefeated doubles duo, junior Vinaya Rao and freshman Kate Harvey.
Rao/Harvey defeated, in order, opponents from Moline, Glenbrook North, Libertyville and New Trier.
"It's good playing teams that are harder," said Rao, who has competed in the state tournament as a singles player the past two years. "It's good because it builds communication, bonding and it builds us as a doubles team."
"Our singles background helps us down the line," Harvey said. "It's good practice."
Although Mid-Suburban League teams didn't finish in the top half of the Fall Classic, their respective coaches remain optimistic that this will be learning experience as conference is a mere two weeks away.
"It's a great experience and a great eye-opener," said Prospect coach Mike McColaugh. "It's also good to get tough opponents like these. Our girls like to compete in this tournament because they like to play against the best. There's not a ton of pressure out here on the weekend invites, but you just compete and play your best to get ready for the postseason."