Boys tennis: Scouting the Pitchford 32
When: 2 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. Saturday
Where: Hersey, plus six nearby co-host venues
Defending team champion: Hinsdale Central.
Court update: It's the biggest and best regular-season boys tennis tournament of them all, which explains the excitement in the eyes of players and the quickened pace in the voices of coaches when they're asked about the 32 -- you know, the Tom Pitchford Tennis Invite. To borrow a golf term, this weekend is a sure sign that high school tennis is making the turn and headed toward the clubhouse.
The 32 signals the last month of the season is about to begin. Eventually it will finish on these same courts, with the state tournament.
If the weather holds, expect some terrific tennis around the area, with the finals to be played at Hersey, which took over as tourney host when Arlington High School closed its doors for good in 1984.
This mini-state meet mimics what players should expect at season's end, with key matches in the backdraw providing plenty of drama for those in the hunt for individual medals and team achievement.
This weekend will also function as perhaps the best true measure of team strength, as the state series necessarily excludes players from top teams who happen to be lumped into the same qualifying sectional. This year, that unlucky site is Highland Park, where Deerfield, Glenbrook South, Glenbrook North, Lake Forest and the host Giants won't be able to advance all of their top entries.
Many consider New Trier this year's top program. On any given weekend, coach Tad Eckert can split his roster in half and send them to two diffferent tournaments, competing for team championships at each.
"We're not as strong at singles as we were a year ago, but we're so much better at doubles, so we'll see how the draw looks and go from there," said Eckert, whose club outlasted a terrific field at the Jay Kramer Invite last weekend to win the title there.
With its team now healthy, Highland Park can also make a run at a top spot. The same can be said for reigning state champion Hinsdale Central, which despite losing former state champions Martin Joyce (Ohio State) and Eddie Grabill (Dartmouth) should not be overlooked.
Downers Grove South and Naperville Central are both quite capable of squeezing their way into the trophy conversation late Saturday afternoon, and each undoubtedly will have an effect on the overall standings.
Downers South has a nice looking lineup at both singles and doubles, and can move around players and still be highly competitive.
At Naperville Central, Dan Brown has assembled an impressive starting lineup, and the addition of Ryan Rogener, a transfer from North Carolina, has given Central some additional firepower at singles to go along with junior Bill Zhang, who finished 25-32 at the state tourney a year ago.
Throw in a solid group at doubles, and the Redhawks should be able to continue to accrue points throughout the two days.
Singles: Stefano Tsorotiotis (Libertyville), Vuk Budic (Deerfield), Brett Meyers (Neuqua Valley), Jacob Edelchik (Highland Park).
Doubles: Deerfield (Chris Casati/Niko Wasilewicz), Glenbrook North (Nick Marino/Austin Klapman), Downers Grove South (Christian San Andreas/Zach Wood), Hinsdale Central (Mike Czlonka/Zachary Elliott).
Five to watch:
Stefano Tsorotiotis (Libertyville) -- The Libertyville junior is the odds-on favorite to lift the championship trophy at No. 1 singles last Saturday afternoon in Arlington Heights. A state medalist in his freshman season two years ago, Tsorotiotis and Highland Park junior Jacob Edelchik are the only two 5-9 seeds from last season back this year.
"I'll admit I've been a little immature at times during my first two years -- my court demeanor hasn't been where it's needed to be in order to compete at the highest level," said Tsorotiotis. "I took some time off during the off-season and went to Greece to visit my grandparents, and that visit really helped me realize the importance of other things in my life, and I really enjoyed seeing them once again. It did me a lot of good."
If the mental part of the game is anywhere near the pure physical part of the game that Tsorotiotis already possesses, look out.
Mack Galvin (Rolling Meadows) -- The Mustangs' three-time state qualifier cannot wait for the 32 to get here. "If the weather holds, this is going to be a fantastic tournament, and, for me, easily the one tournament that I am most excited to be a part of, aside from the state tournament," said the three-time MSL champion. "The field at singles is so good, and even though we don't have players like (Martin) Joyce and Eddie (Grabill), Ben (VanDixhorn) or the Ross brothers (Lyons Township) here anymore, it's a great group, and one that I hope to be right there with them come Saturday in the final rounds." Galvin, whose record was 16-0 early in the week, knows a good showing this weekend will go a long way toward solidifying a top-eight seed in four weeks, and perhaps higher, as he looks to lay the groundwork for such a lofty spot.
"After playing three years now, and here at the 32 as well as the state tournament," said Galvin, "I believe I have things kind of figured out, especially in my training, fitness and diet. So along with that, I feel I can compete with the best guys, and I'm anxious for Friday to get here."
Brett Meyers (Neuqua Valley) -- The Neuqua Valley senior signaled his intent for this weekend following his championship performance on week ago at the prestigious Jay Kramer Invite at Hinsdale Central with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Highland Park standout Jacob Edelchik at Burns Field in Hinsdale. The Marquette-bound Meyers conceded just 11 games last Saturday en route to his title, and has played only two three-set matches, both against Ryan Roegner of Naperville Central. Meyers' lone defeat came to Christian San Andres (3-6, 3-6) of Downers Grove South. "Brett is playing very strong this year," said coach, Trudy Bennorth of her two-time state qualifier, who also won at the Naperville North Invite earlier in the season. "I really looking forward to the 32 this weekend," said Meyers. "It will give me a chance to see where I stand with the rest of the field at singles, and to see what I might need to work on in order to prepare for the state tournament in four weeks. After two trips to the state tournament, my goal is to get to that third day, and see what happens then. To get there and to be able to still compete at a high level, it's all about being mentally and physically ready to get through the first two days -- especially the second, which can be such a grind because you could play four matches on that day, many of those matches in heat and humidity."
Jacobs -- The Golden Eagles' program has been flying in another stratosphere during the past few seasons, just about the same time Kailish Panchapakesan and Kendrick Chong came on the scene three years ago. Since then, the three-time state qualifiers have helped fuel three consecutive sectional championships, with a fourth a distinct possibility with teammate Riley Rowan providing addtional firepower from his spot at No. 2 singles. "It's all about doing what's good for the team first," said Chong, who paired in double with his brother Kevin is 16-1, and a perfect 5-0 in the FVC. The Chong brothers, along with Panchapakesan, Rowan and Matt Kastritis are all undefeated in league play, which includes the Golden Eagles' first-ever defeat of Prairie Ridge on Tuesday. "It goes without saying that the Pitchford is an incredible opportunity for our players to compete against of the very best in the state," said Jacobs coach Jon Betts, "and we are going in eager to compete and hoping the weather co-operates at the same time."
Downers Grove South, Hinsdale South, Stevenson -- Deerfield's Chris Casati and Niko Wasilewicz, the defending state champs, are the clear favorites in doubles.
With that said, there's a handful of teams taking aim at topping the reigning champs, and a few more who are ready to make their mark over the next two days while looking to earn some extra bonus points for seeding time.
With his first-class lineup, coach Peter Freischlag from Downers Grove South will be in position to challenge for a team trophy this weekend as doubles lineup figures to garner plenty of points. For the 32, Freischlag will have 2015 state singles qualifier Christian San Andres alongside Zach Wood (also a state qualifier a year ago) at No. 1, with Andrew Garcia/Jeff Spear together at No. 2. San Andres/Wood is 8-0, while Garcia/Spear is 15-3. Junior Lawrence Hiquiana, who joined San Andres and Wood at the state tourney in 2015, will take the reins at No. 1 singles with a 10-5 record.
The Hinsdale South No. 1 team of Rohan Chinwalla/Namit Sambare impressed Steve Rudman enough to get this comment from the highly regarded Highland Park coach: "South's No. 1 is a team to keep your eye on. They're great doubles players, who have shown here at the Jay Kramer Invite they can play with the best of them." Stephen Snider's Hornets were a last-minute addition to the Jay Kramer. "We were thrilled to get the call to play at a tournament like this one," said Chinwalla, a senior, "and it's being a part of a tournament such as this that will make us better, while giving us some needed exposure to so many state-ranked teams." Peter Alex is the Hornets' No. 1 this spring. "I expect this team to compete on day No. 3 of state this year," said Snider. "They took some early losses to New Trier, Edwardsville and Hinsdale Central, but they are easily the most dynamic and athletic team I have ever coached." The Hornets' No. 2 team of Haaris Alvi/Josh Eisenschenk enter the tournament with a 12-1 record.
Stevenson's Tom Stanhope has moved his top two teams around about every week, and this weekend the Patriots coach has decided on the team of Brian Weisburg/Matt Harvey as his No. 1 over Ben Bush/Sam Komis. Weisburg/Harvey defeated Glenbrook North rather easily in straight sets to win the No. 2 doubles title at the Buffalo Grove Invite last weekend to raise its overall record to 10-1, with its lone defeat on the season coming against Casati/Wasilewicz.Bush/Komis (8-3) ran into GBN's top team of Nick Marino/Austin Klapman in the final at No. 1 and came out on the short end of a 7-5, 0-6, 6-7(4) result. Both Patriots teams can help their own cause in four weeks with solid efforts.
-- Mike Garofola