Girls tennis: Lakes' Heuser finishes the job as Class 1A champion
Megan Heuser, the Lakes tennis player.
Megan Heuser, the teen.
Two different people.
"She'll destroy you on the tennis court," Lakes girls tennis coach Bryan Plinske said of his ace Eagle at Saturday's Class 1A girls tennis state tournament at Buffalo Grove. "She'll then befriend you afterward.
"So many times this year, after a 6-0, 6-0 or a 6-0, 6-1 victory, Megan would come off a court, talking and laughing with her opponent, and then they'd sit together for an hour or more and talk some more while watching other matches."
Slack-jawed spectators viewed Heuser, the tennis player, as the No. 1 seed continued her magnificent display of dominance Saturday morning in frigid temps and under gray skies. The junior -- third in singles at her first state meet in 2017, and again last fall -- became the first state champion in program history with an overwhelming 6-1, 6-1 defeat of Chicago University High sophomore Emma Baker in the championship final.
And she did it with a variety of weapons. Heuser's heavy topspin groundstrokes bounced well north of Baker's strike zone; her smooth, barely-clearing-the-net slices forced the second-seeded Baker to stab in vain at shots near her shoestrings; and the Eagle blasted resounding service returns past Baker -- almost before Baker had completed her serve follow-through.
"Megan's slices … they're pristine," Lakes assistant coach Cathryn Ingram marveled. "You watch her play, and you see nothing but power and clean shots."
Heuser (30-0) won 6 matches in three days at state, dropping a mere 7 games. Seven. She had lost only 10 games all fall before the start of sectional action last weekend, and only one Heuser foe managed to notch 2 games in a set.
"I went out there for the final with an aggressive mindset," said Heuser, who reached the girls 18-and-under doubles final with Ohioan Elizabeth Fahrmeier at the USTA National Championships in August.
"I also wanted to mix my shots up in order to prevent (Baker) from getting into any kind of rhythm."
The 2019 version of Heuser at state looked nothing like the 2017 version of her did. As a freshman, she often would attempt to turn fuzzy tennis balls into bald ones with one powerful swing. She'd hit the lines for winners, here and there. She'd also spray too many, wide or long.
"That wasn't a good strategy," Hauser, Lakes' lone state qualifier this weekend, admitted.
Hauser's state-meet point total (14) this year was good enough for a fifth-place tie with the Effingham St. Anthony contingent, which battled with a singles player and a pair of doubles teams.
"Megan," Plinske said Saturday morning, "was locked in today, locked in all weekend. I didn't need to give her a pep talk at any point in the tournament. Her game features more tactics than it did two years ago, and her ability to change things up, combined with her mental toughness and confidence, helped her break through that barrier of consecutive third-place finishes here."
Following match point, a smiling, relieved Heuser shook hands with Baker at the net. Was she happy that she had won? Or was she happy that Baker had also enjoyed a highly successful state run?
Heuser, more than likely, was doubly happy.
From fierce competitor to friendly teen -- just like that.
"All season long," Plinske said, "Megan was about handling her business on the court and being a great human being off the court."
The bottom line, meanwhile, for Stevenson sisters Athena and Alaina Kolli? The Patriots proved their mettle with another medal-worthy performance. The Class 2A doubles runner-up last year, Athena (a senior) and Alaina (a sophomore) Kolli took fifth in doubles Saturday at Rolling Meadows, downing New Trier's Ashtin Hara/Monika Glueck 6-4, 6-4 in their final match.
Seeded 5-8, the Kollis went 6-1 in three days, winning thrice in the championship draw and thrice in the back draw. Their lone loss was to top-seeded and eventual state champion Sienna Lopez/Shannele Lopez of Glenbard West in a quarterfinal Friday morning.
"I wanted Athena and Alaina at the net, finishing points, all the time (in the fifth-place match)," said first-year Stevenson coach and Stevenson graduate Alexxis Kiven, whose crew finished in fifth place with 16 points, behind state champion Lake Forest (39), Hinsdale Central (33), New Trier (26) and Glenbard West (18).
"They competed well; it's definitely tough, winning three matches after a quarterfinal loss," added Kiven, who collaborated with Kendall Kirsch in 2013 to capture the first state doubles championship in program history.
Libertyville, with a sturdy eighth-place showing (13 points), finished in the Top 10 at state for the first time since a Wildcats club coached by Pam Dircks tied Mother McAuley for 10th place in 1993. Freshman Margaret Forkner, seeded 9-16, won 5 of 7 matches and ended up seventh-eighth in singles by reaching a semifinal in the consolation bracket.
She bowed 6-1, 6-3 to eventual fifth-place finisher Autumn Rabjohns of Lake Forest in her final match Saturday morning.
"Maggie did such a good job of hitting the ball on the rise and ending points quickly," said Libertyville coach Dan Kiernan, who also received 4 singles wins from junior Lily VanDixhorn and 2 doubles victories from sisters Lauren and Alexandra Berns at state.
"That's a huge advantage at this level," the coach added. "Maggie can hit winners from a lot of places on the court."