Boys tennis: Scouting the Pitchford 32
Boys tennis: Scouting the Pitchford 32
When: 2 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. Saturday
Where: Hersey High School (tournament host), along with six co-hosting sites
Defending champ: Hinsdale Central
Court update: From its modest beginnings to its comprehensive approach today, the Pitchford Tennis Invite has turned into a tennis monster. The 32, as it is called by most, is the precursor to the state tournament in four weeks. And it's therefore a weekend where many coaches will tinker and tweak their lineups, particularly at doubles in hopes of getting a reading on what combination will give their players the best chance to advance through the sectional meets.
The 32 got its start as a four-team invite in central Illinois, then gradually grew into this prestigious event, which was originally hosted by Arlington High School where the late Tom Pitchford was head coach before moving over to Hersey.
This two-day tournament will give fans a chance to see most of the high-profile players from all around the state, along with a glimpse at other hopefuls who likely will be playing on the final day of the competition on that last week of May.
As always, there's plenty of intrigue and mystery associated with this tournament. For starters, Martin Joyce, the 2013 state singles champion, is expected to make his return to the Hinsdale Central lineup after declaring early in the season he would not return to play for his senior year.
Should Joyce not be in the Red Devils' starting lineup, defending state champion Eddie Grabill will be on hand, as will, Gianni Ross, the No. 1-rated player in the Midwest (16s) who is back at Lyons Township after staying away from the prep scene while building an impressive USTA resume.
Hinsdale Central, Highland Park, Glenbrook North, Stevenson, Lake Forest and Downers Grove South all figure to be in the mix for the team trophy when it's over, making for an interesting storyline in advance for the upcoming Deerfield Invite, where most of the top teams in this half of the state will compete in two weeks.
Results from the six sites in the area will be updated continuously on the Hersey High School website throughout the weekend.
Five to watch:Mack Galvin (Rolling Meadows): The Mustangs junior has been impressive from the season's opening weekend and will enter the tournament with a record of 13-0, and an intent to play as deeply as possible into Saturday.
"I am so excited about the Pitchford -- it's the tournament aside from state," said the two-time MSL champion, just after his club played Prospect on Tuesday in a Mid-Suburban East dual meet. "This is a great opportunity for me this weekend, as it gives me a chance to see how I measure up with the top players in the state, and I can tell you that I am ready to go."
Galvin, a two-time state qualifier who was eliminated on the second day of the tournament by Bill Zhang (Naperville Central) 7-6 (8), 6-1, avenged that loss on the first week of this season with a 6-2, 6-2 victory at the Mustangs Invite.
"Bill is a great player, so it was nice to beat him at the start of this season, especially after he defeated me twice last year," said Galvin, who finished 36-5 last year. "That's the type of competition I expect this weekend, and in a tournament like this, you know your going to be playing some great players, and that's what I am looking forward to."
Ishaan Jaglan (Barrington): This four-year veteran has been a key figure in the Broncos' last three MSL titles, regardless of where coach John Roncone has positioned the Michigan State-bound Jaglan.
Last season, after holding down the No. 1 spot for most of the season, Jaglan teammed with Scott Apmann to put together an impressive run into the state tournament, where they won four matches before being eliminated on the second day.
"To get into the state tournament for the first time (for both of us) and play into the second day was amazing for Scott and I, and the experience from doing that is something which will help both of us this season," said Jaglan, who will be an engineering student next fall, with an eye on law school afterward.
This weekend Jaglan is back at his familiar spot as the Broncos' No. 1, while Apmann, and Matt Mulligan handle the top spot at doubles, as they have for most of the spring thus far.
"Scott and I played together at the Benet Invite, and against Buffalo Grove, and we were set to play at the Jay Kramer last weekend until it was rained out," said Jaglan, "but I am looking forward to being a part of a great singles field at the 32 and to see where I stand with all the top guys from around the state."
"Ishaan has worked very hard since last season, he's put the time in, and, when he's on, can be a very dangerous singles player," said Roncone. "He's earned the right to be out there as our No. 1, and I am sure he's excited to see how he measures up. And with some great weather expected, he'll have every chance to go out there and play some terrific tennis."
Tony Leto (Downers Grove): This Mustangs' senior leads a deep and talented club, which is capable of making a trophy run this weekend and against four weeks from now, at the state tournament. The Iowa-bound Leto took Joyce to three sets here last year, and again at the state tournament before falling just short, proving he can play with the best.
"I feel like I am right there with the top players, so this is a big weekend for both me and our team, which we feel is capable of a getting a top-three finish and a trophy at state in late May," says Leto, who is 21-1, with his lone defeat at the hands of the reigning singles champ, Grabill.
Leto lost heartbreakers to both Joyce and Peter Tarwid at the 2014 state tournament, the Nos. 1-2 seeds. In between, though, he defeated 3-4 seed, Ben VanDixhorn (Libertyville), one of six victories over his three days on the way to a sixth-place finish.
"During the off-season, I worked hard on improving my serves, played a lot of doubles to get my return game better and really went hard at getting as fit as I possible could," said Leto: "This weekend and the state tournament is a grind, and I want to be ready for it," adds the four-year star, who has made a strong case for himself earning a top four seed this weekend.
Kalaish Panchapakesan (Jacobs): The Golden Eagles junior helped coach Jon Betts' club win its own invite to get the Fox Valley Conference champs off to a flying start and fuel what Panchapakesan and his teammates hopes will be another sectional title.
"Last year we won the first-ever sectional team championship in school history, and this year we were invited to our first Pitchford Invite in school history, so it's a great time for Jacobs tennis," said the two-time state qualifier, who was a sparkling 31-8 a year ago. "We've got a great No. 1 doubles team (Matt Toomire/Riley Rowan) and a really good lineup, and for all of us, playing this weekend at the Pitchford will help us show others that Jacobs has a tennis program, and a very good one. Plus it gives us a chance to see where all of us are at against the top players and teams in our area, and the state."
The reigning FVC singles champ put a lot of extra time into his game during the off-season, including his serve, footwork and fitness, which he feels will help him stay in points longer, while giving him that little extra something during the grueling days of tournaments like the 32 and beyond.
"I remember how I felt last year at the state tournament playing really competitive matches all on the same day, so I knew how important it would be to be better fit for this season," said the Golden Eagles' No. 1.
No. 1 doubles from Stevenson, Deerfield, Glenbrook North and Highland Park: This quartet makes this list for several reasons. Perhaps the most important is how they can set themselves apart from each other leading into the state tournament, where a win here and there could be the difference in earning a higher seed and a less hazardous road on that first day of competition.
All four teams return the same names as a year ago, an oddity of sorts, especially in the fast-changing world of doubles tennis.
Matt Harvey-Adam Maryniuk were Stevenson's No. 2 last season behind their state champion teammates, Colin Harvey-Andrew Komarov, and had a good showing during their two-day stay at the state tournament.
Meanwhile, the Central Suburban League superpower threesome will see each other plenty the rest of the way, including a date in the cruel Deerfield sectional, easily the toughest and deepest of all in the state this season.
Glenbrook North (David Zakhodin/Miguel Perez) and Highland Park (Max Gordon/David Alzenberg) both earned 5-8 seeds last year, while the Deerfield pair of Chris Casati/Niko Wasilewiczwere, who were a 9-16 seed, advanced to the consolation semifinals, just as Glenbrook North did.
"Those two have a lot of talent -- Chris has great hands, Niko has a huge serve, and I feel their returns set them apart from everyone else," says Deerfield coach Josh Leighton. "In some ways, they remind me of (Mario) Bialek and Jason (Hanschmann) with those returns, and that took those guys a long way at state."
Leighton guideed the Bialek-Hanschmann duo to a third-place state trophy in 2004 as Palatine's coach.