Boys tennis: Hinsdale Central's Schmelka downs Hersey's Sheldon for singles title
Five of the last eight players standing in the Class 2A singles field were sophomores, and it was two of those sensational second-year players who met on center court Saturday in the IHSA state boys tennis tournament at the Tom Pitchford Tennis Complex in Arlington Heights.
Max Sheldon of Hersey and Robert Daniel Schmelka of Hinsdale Central survived the first two days of play, each taking a turn at sending off a 1-2 seed on Friday to advance into the 104th state final.
Schmelka (18-4) would look to overcome a raucous home crowd who came in support to cheer every point their hero Sheldon would claim, with the hope of the Huskies' star making history for the Hersey program.
For much of the warm, sunburning morning, Sheldon was right there with his Red Devils' opponent, dropping the first set then nearly forcing a third and deciding set until Schmelka prevailed to carry off the big trophy.
Schmelka's 6-3, 7-5 victory, along with a doubles crown from teammates Joseph Daw-Noah Hernandez, helped Central easily lift its second consecutive team title and 22nd in program history.
"Max was right there with Schmelka," said Hersey head coach Andy Walton after teammates, friends and family mobbed Sheldon outside his home courts.
"Just as (Friday) when he came back from being down (4-3) in his second set with (Highland Park's Jeremy) Learner, I felt he was capable of doing so again especially if it goes to a third set, but Schmelka is a heck of a player and he did everything he had to in order to close things out."
Sheldon (35-3) was bidding to become the first player in Hersey program history to win a state title since Brad Rosenbaum did so in 1988 and although he fell behind 4-1 in the first set, he would roar back to make it 4-3 until Schmelka broke his serve, then held to ensure a first-set victory in a little over than 50 minutes.
" (Schmelka) kind of lulled me to sleep in that first set, and kind of sucked me into playing the way he wanted to play," admitted Sheldon. "The fans were great, many of which got here early to cheer me on, and I know that helped me get up for the second set and it nearly helped me push the match into a third."
However, again, Sheldon was forced to chase Schmelka, who built what looked like a comfortable 5-2 advantage until the Huskies' star reeled off three straight wins to draw even at 5-5, only to have the eventual state champ take the next two claim his title.
"Max has come such a long way in just one year and I know he will continue to grow during the offseason and if he does I know I'll be out there on the court and in my chair cheering him on in another state final," said a proud Walton.
Perhaps lost on a busy second day of tennis on Friday were several stories of Northwest suburbs players.
The sparkling four-year career of Dylan Er of Barrington came to a close when he and teammate Matt D'Amore lost in the consolation quarterfinals.
The 9-16 seed Broncos (31-9) opened Friday with two straight victories before Edwardsville dashed the hopes of the No. 1 Barrington team.
Er, who will attend DePaul University in the fall, was a three-time state qualifier and two-time Mid-Suburban League and sectional doubles champion.
Barrington's Pranav Gadiraju-Aryan Sharma (14-5) earned one more win on Friday over Lyons Township before being eliminated by 3-4 seed Griffin Foster-Christo Maltby of Glenbard West.
Gadiraju, D'Amore and two-time state qualifier Ammar Wazir are part of a young core of returning players for Broncos coach John Roncone.
Conant and Fremd will lean on a handful of state qualifiers who are back next spring with Casey Hishinuma (23-12) and the doubles team of Ryan Zheng-Arjun Srivasta (26-6) leading the way for the Vikings after going 3-2 in the tournament.
Conant has a terrific one-two punch with Roberto Macher-Rameen Marzban, who came together late in the season to build a quality resume that included a big win over Stevenson on the first day of play.
Maine West sophomore Kamil Kozerski (28-5) will be back and better than ever after falling just two wins short of 30 after a 2-2 record in his first appearance in the tournament.