Girls tennis: Stevenson takes control; Palatine's Kawai thrives

 
By Jonathan Jones
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 10/15/2016 11:13 PM

For the sixth consecutive year, Stevenson's girls tennis team grabbed a sectional title, grabbing 32 points at Hersey on Saturday.

It's the fourth straight season the Patriots have qualified all four positions to play in the state tournament, which begins Thursday at various Mid-Suburban League sites and is hosted by Buffalo Grove.

 

Fremd followed the Patriots with 22 points, while Palatine notched a 20-point third-place finish. Barrington and Buffalo Grove tied at fourth with 10.

"This year was different," said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope. "We had a few injuries early on in the season so we had the option to see different combinations. That gave us a good idea about the season.

"Doesn't matter who it is, state is a big deal," Stanhope continued about the Patriots' success at the state tournament. "Just play your best under the pressure and whatever happens will work out. The girls played their game. We're going to give the girls the next couple days off. There's not a lot we can address before state. We can work on strategy, but at the end of the day we have to play our game."

In singles, Palatine's Asuka Kawai notched her third straight title at sectionals. Kawai, who is graduating a year early, has finished in the top 10 in her first two years in the state tournament. The Pirates senior posted a third-place finish overall in the 15-16 edition of the state tournament.

The journey to Kawai's sectional title including victories against Barrington's Maggie Tippet (6-0, 6-0), Jessica Prus of Buffalo Grove (6-0, 6-0) and both of Stevenson singles players, Athena Kolli (6-1, 6-1) and Dhwani Kumar (6-1, 6-3).

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"It definitely gave me confidence that I was able to win," Kawai said. "I need a week of practice so I can figure out what I need to do (to win the state tournament). My ground strokes were good -- I just need to worry about my technique for the tournament.

"Every year I'm excited to play (in the state tourney). I have the same motivation. Every time I play to do my best. I don't care about anything else; I just care about winning."

Other singles state qualifiers include sectional runner-up Stevenson senior Dhwani Kumar, third-place Fremd sophomore Diya Matta and Stevenson freshman Athena Kolli.

The two top finishers in doubles were all Patriots, as frosh/soph tandem Gina Kondos/Elizabeth Ferdman was the champ.

Kondos/Ferdman recorded victories against Hersey's Paulina Klis/Susan Ferris (6-0, 6-0), Buffalo Grove's Christina Harisiadis/Danielle Allaire (6-1, 6-1), Fremd's Kate Bodensteiner/Julia Smiarowska (6-2, 6-2) and finally a 6-0, 6-0 win over teammates Kate Harvey/Paige Nierman.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The main thing is attitude," Kondos said. "If we have a positive attitude, we get down on ourselves and things could go wrong (in the state tournament). Everything could be good, as long as we don't lose our focus."

"We've worked so hard this year," Ferdman said. "It used to be intimidating to go against (Kate Harvey) with all of her successes. We won't think about our past results. We're just going to worry about our own game, cheer on our teammates to help our team win."

Harvey is entering her third state tournament bid. As a doubles partner with now-graduated Vinaya Rao, Harvey won the state tournament in 2014-15 and was a state runner-up last season. The Stevenson junior returns this fall with her new partner, Nierman.

"Kate is coming on late in the season," Stanhope said. "She's been here before and likes the intensity. That's why we put her with Paige in her first sectional. Having a player on your team like (Harvey) goes a long way, as she's a competitor and is one of our biggest weapons we bring to the table."

Bodensteiner/Smiarowska, both juniors, will play the state tourney for a second straight time. In the Mid-Suburban League tournament semifinals, the Fremd duo was up a set and leading 5-2 in the second against Palatine's Ky Oreshkin/Kanae Kawai before ultimately suffering a disappointing loss.

Bodensteiner/Smiarowska made up for it by defeating the Pirates 6-4, 6-3 to advance into the sectional semifinals to earn their state tournament berth. The Viking qualifiers eventually finished in third place.

"Coach helped us out a lot in practice," Bodensteiner said. "Sectional and conference prepares us to play good teams. We're excited to be back in (the state tournament). We're happy for Diya and we're happy to be representing Fremd."

"We were better prepared and didn't think about last week," Smiarowska said. "This year we grew and have a little more experience. It's a little less scary going into the tournament. We have to play our game every match."

Barrington's Nidhi Jha/Sara Amano finished fourth at Hersey and also earned a state berth, their second.

• In the sectional hosted by Conant, Elk Grove advanced three entries to the state tournament and the Cougars advanced two.

Grens senior Jelena Vujanic was the singles champion, claiming a 6-4, 6-3 over Elgin frosh Marta Krakowski.

Jelena's sophomore sister Jovana also advanced after topping Lake Park's Nina Pasquini 6-2, 6-1 in the third-place matchup.

The Grens will also participate at state in double. Elk Grove junior Ashley Szull and sophomore Lauren Oda took third place after earning a 6-2, 6-2 win against Conant's Francesa Bucaro and Ashley Yoon.

Conant's pairing of senior Gaby Kaminski and junior Nikitha Lakshminarayanan proved to be a winner, as they topped Lake Park's Alexis Belmonte and Nancy Cozzi for the doubles title.

• Other area players heading to state include St. Viator singles player junior Patricia Dizon and the Lions' doubles team of senior Clara Carlson and junior Greta Zimmerman. St. Viator finished second as a team in the Class 1A Vernon Hills sectional.

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