Stevenson looks strong; Kawai, Linden take top singles spots
Girls tennis hopefuls taking the courts Saturday morning at Stevenson were finally able to compete for the opportunity they've been training for all season: A trip to the state tournament.
The host Patriots will making the journey in force again after netting their fifth consecutive sectional title with 31 points.
Barrington followed suit as runner-up with 19 points, while Palatine and Fremd notched 18 and 12 points, respectively.
The Stevenson sectional ended with fireworks, as familiar Mid-Suburban League foes Asuka Kawai of Palatine and Michelle Linden of Barrington battled for the third straight week, this time for the singles sectional championship.
Kawai, a sophomore, registered her second straight title over Linden, a senior, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Before defeating Linden, Kawai earned wins against Buffalo Grove junior Denitsa Dimitrova (6-0, 6-0), Hersey sophomore Claire Magnuson (6-0, 6-0) and Stevenson junior Dhwani Kumar (6-1, 6-0).
"It doesn't seem like we've played as often as we have," Kawai said of Linden. "Every time I play her, I need to play my tennis. I love that everyone is cheering and supporting me so I'm not terrified or afraid."
Kawait says she feels being more comfortable with the high school setting will help her in this state tournament.
"(Linden) is always tough," Kawai said. "I feel excited about the state tournament. My goal is to get higher than (2014). Last year, I wasn't used to high school tennis and I got really nervous against (Carmel alumni and 2014 state champion Brienne) Minor. I have to try and stay calm and do what I need to do."
Though Kawai continued her undefeated season, Linden handed the Palatine sophomore her first set loss of the season. Linden, bound for Wisconsin next year, showed her competitive nature after winning an arduous 6-4, 7-5 decision in the semifinals over Stevenson's Zoe Taylor and then pushing Kawai to three sets.
The set win against Kawai is the first Linden has recorded since the two first met in 2014. Linden battled back to make it 4-3 in the third set before faltering in the next two games. She'll represent Barrington in the state tournament for a fourth straight year.
"Each time is different when you play Asuka," Linden said. "You have to be at your best each time, because when she gets the momentum, she takes it over. She's always on, and a hard player to play against.
"I don't set any expectations for the state tournament, but I'm hoping to play in the top four. I'm gaining more confidence and being more aggressive. Going into (next weekend), I have to take control of the points."
Stevenson had an extremely successful day, sending all four teams through to the state tournament. The defending doubles state champions, senior Vinaya Rao and sophomore Katherine Harvey, topped Barrington's Anna Donoghue/Nidhi Jha 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals before beating their own teammates, Alexandra Zoubareva and Elizabeth Ferdman, 6-3, 6-1 for the title.
"I'm always looking ahead on what we need to work on," Rao said. "Playing our teammates was really nice. We feel like we have a target on our back going to state, but we also have the intimidation factor. It's nice having our whole time there, because when we're down at some points, our teammates can pick us up."
"This helps us prepare when facing the tougher teams next week," said Harvey. "There is pressure, but I think it will only help us. We've been there before and know how to handle it going into it. We have a lot of confidence."
Stevenson's other state qualifiers were Taylor and Kumar, who claimed the third and fourth singles spots, and Zoubareva/Ferdman as runners-up at doubles.
Fremd will be represented at state by the doubles team of Kate Bodensteiner/Julia Smiarowska after they finished fourth, and Donoghue/Jha will join Linden to represent the Fillies.
Lake Park sectional: Elk Grove took the team title by the slimmest of margins, finishing with 20 points to edge second-place Rolling Meadows and the host Lancers, who both had 19.
Jelena Vujanic led the way for the Grens by winning the singles title. The Grens junior topped Streamwood's Alaina Kanthaphixay 6-0, 6-1 in the championship match.
Elk Grove also won doubles, as the freshman tandem of Jovana Vujanic and Lauren Oda defeated Rolling Meadows' Anisha Galla/Stefani Nikolova 6-1, 6-1 for the title.
Rolling Meadows also qualified juniors Mackenzie Differding and Stephanie Peric, who topped Conant's Priya Gupta/Gaby Kaminski 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-5 in the third-place doubles match.
Lake Park advanced both its singles players, Gina Odisho (third) and Skye Palumbo (fourth).
York sectional: Leyden sophomore Jessica Minkov will join the state tournament field after placing third in singles.
Timothy Christian (31 points) edged the host Dukes (28) for the team title.
Minkov topped York's Maja Shaw 6-1, 6-2 in the third-place singles match.
Glenbrook South sectional: Prospect placed fourth in the team competition but was not able to advance competitors as Maine South (30), Glenbrook North (23) and Glenbrook South (21) dominated the proceedings.