Glenbard West's Kernagis rolls, Conant takes team title at Schaumburg sectional

The shot heard 'round North America emanated from Hanover Park on Saturday.

The tennis shot, that is.

Glenbard West senior Mira Kernagis struck it against Conant junior Kaitlyn Strilich in the singles final of the Class 2A Schaumburg girls tennis sectional at Centre Court Athletic Club.

Kernagis' inside-out forehand service return screamed inches above the net and into a far corner of the baseline for a clean winner. The shot's echo will have a lifespan of two weeks, give or take an hour. All Strilich could do was tap her left palm to the face of her racket a couple of times, which is tennis code for “Too good.”

The Hilltopper's covetous brand of tennis is economical, surgical, fantastical — pick a “cal,” any “cal.”

“Mira can turn any ball into an offensive shot,” Glenbard West coach Kevin Graham said after his ace's 6-0, 6-1 victory upped her record to a resplendent 24-0. “She has great form, especially with her weight transfer while hitting powerful groundstrokes.

“She sure makes tennis look effortless,” he added.

Rain made tennis an indoor sport this weekend, hence the cozy stages at Centre Court Athletic Club.

Kernagis lost a combined four games in four matches at the two-day tournament, where the top four singles players and top four doubles teams qualified to compete in next weekend's state meet at Buffalo Grove and a slew of other sites.

“I didn't play much this week because of an injured ankle,” said the William & Mary-bound Kernagis, who defeated Conant freshman Khrystyna Pivtorak 6-1, 6-1 in a sectional semifinal earlier Saturday. “So it was nice to get back in a rhythm.

“Since last year (when Kernagis placed seventh-eighth at state), I've been trying to improve my serve and transition more to the net. I like to build a point by pulling an opponent off the court with shots to the corners; those then create open targets for me.”

Second-seeded Strilich (29-6), now a three-time state qualifier, scrambled and battled valiantly to stay in points against the top-seeded Kernagis. But Kernagis' shots were too good, too precise, too loud.

Team Conant — a week after sharing the Mid-Suburban League title with Barrington for its first league championship in program history — also made significant noise on Saturday, netting the Cougars' first sectional title in 11 years behind the first-place doubles showing from dauntless freshmen Advita Deepak and Nidhi Karekar.

Conant amassed 29 points, well ahead of runner-up Lake Park (19). Wheaton North placed third (18), followed by Glenbard West (16), Rolling Meadows (8), Schaumburg (8), Addison Trail (4) and Hoffman Estates (4).

Deepak/Karekar (27-5), the reigning MSL No. 1 doubles champs and good friends for at least four years, downed Wheaton North juniors Kaylee Phillips/Stella Tarusha 6-3, 6-1 in the doubles final Saturday afternoon. The pair of Cougars used punishing groundstrokes to win the bulk of their points and recorded a service break in the fourth game of the second set — to go up 3-1 — after failing to hold serve in the previous game. Phillips/Tarusha punched sneaky, angled volleys for winners several times to end lengthy points.

“We did not think we'd get this far in the sectional,” Deepak admitted. “We stayed focused and communicated well. Nidhi was positive and kept me motivated.”

“Trusting each other — we relied on that all weekend,” Karekar said.

The most grateful witness at Centre Court Athletic Club had to be Conant coach Matt Marks. Three of his four state qualifiers were eighth-graders at this time last year.

“Watch out for Conant girls tennis in the next two, three years,” a smiling Marks said. “All three freshmen look up to Kaitlyn, who's a natural leader. What I like most about Khrystyna is how much she enjoys playing against outstanding singles players, like Kaitlyn in practice and Mira today. She's not afraid of the competition. She wants to get better, and she will get better because of her positive approach to tennis.

“Nidhi and Advita have great personalities and tennis abilities,” he added. “And they're always in tune with each other.”

Pivtorak (30-5) defeated Wheaton North senior Hannah Swanson 6-0, 6-0 in the third-place singles match. The third-place doubles match was a Lake Park vs. Lake Park event, with Neha Murkonda/Jessica Dudas besting Lancers teammates Tanvi Murkonda/Jacqueline Cozzi 6-3, 7-5.

“When I first watched Khrystyna hit in August (preseason), I was scared because she's so good,” Strilich recalled.

“I was scared of Kaitlyn,” Pivtorak said, “because I'd heard all about her success in tennis.”

Happy early Halloween, Kaitlyn and Khrystyna.

The state meet (Class 2A and Class 1A) runs from October 19-21.

At Cary-Grove:

Barrington topped the Class 2A field with 24 points, ahead of Lake Zurich (20), Fremd (18) and Huntley (18).

Fremd senior Alina Shyani defeated Lake Zurich junior Katrine Boianov 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in the singles final, while LZ juniors Summer Fabsik/Tessa Fabsik edged Huntley juniors Carlie Weishaar/Kate Burkey 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 for the doubles title.

Barrington Fillies advancing to state were sophomore Shriya Ramesh (3rd, singles), freshman Courtney Croll (4th, singles) and the doubles team of Isra Kahn/Stephanie Yoon, who defeated Jacobs' Kylie Cohn/Sara Casey 6-4, 6-0 in the match for third place.

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