Coach's Corner: Standing east-west while watching North vs. South
The fans were facing east and west, but all eyes on were on North and South as the two schools battled it out on the tennis courts last week at 4000 W Lake Street in Glenview.
Cold, windy conditions threatened to make play a bit sloppy, but players from both squads overcame the weather -- displaying strong skills highlighted by long volleys, quality serves, solid net play and the occasional strategic drop shot.
A warning in advance: Keep my observations here in proper low-calorie perspective. While far from being a tennis savant, and with the highlight of my racket career being a third-place finish in high school intramurals (still proud of that, but the trophy long since gone), I was nevertheless able to sneak in a few thoughts while watching as a casual fan.
For one thing, the girls have really improved in the power game. They hit the ball with remarkable velocity, including many long volleys, strong baseline shots and powerful returns. Very impressive.
Improved weight training, personal coaches, and the amount of club and tournament competition they play at early ages surely are among the reasons for these improvements.
Another observation was that, in the singles matches, attacking the net and trying for kill shots is apparently not everyone's game. The singles players I watched were clearly much more comfortable staying back on the baseline and depending on their ground stroke game.
A third observation came while watching the doubles, and even to this untrained eye, realizing how important it is to have confidence, chemistry and belief in your partner. You could see that especially while watching the Titans' top duo of seniors Jenna Horne and Elle Stewart. They have both been there, done that in their careers, and you could just tell through body language and facial expression that they have complete confidence in each other.
Even when struggling (down 3-0 in games in the 2nd set) there was no panic, no worry. And it showed as they came back to win the set and the match against a very strong Glenbrook North team of Megan Mar and Niki Baerson.
As a quick side note here: If you're coming to watch your favorite tennis players or teams this fall, let it be known that it is strictly BYOC -- Bring Your Own Chair. The nice, cold-retaining portable aluminum stands that are normally available for spectator seating are now strictly off-limits and marked with the same yellow tape police use at a car crash or crime scene. According to my viewing that day, neither were the case here.
South ended up winning the match 6-2. But watch out for Glenbrook North, because their future is bright. It's a rapidly improving team with some solidly experienced juniors and seniors in addition to some rising future stars.
Freshman Rina Matsunaga goes front and center in this category as she played on the feature first singles court and in the best match of the day defeated veteran and talented Titan senior Elizabeth Hoo 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. Matsunaga was tested at about every turn in this classic matchup, but impressively never folded. She stuck to her ground game and outlasted Hoo -- she'll be a force to be reckoned with for CSL opponents over the next four years.
Another star in the making, Spartan sophomore Ellie Peskin, defeated Titan junior Julia Park 6-3, 6-3 in an impressive match, while the third singles court saw South's Jill Demling defeat Spartan freshman Dani Gichner 6-3, 6-4.
Fourth singles featured Glenbrook South junior Aria Jain and Glenbrook North Senior Lauren Siegel, with Jain coming out on top at 6-1, 6-2.
As mentioned, the featured first court doubles match was a good one. Stewart and Horne cruised in the first set winning 6-2, but had to come back to win set two with a strong finishing 6-4 win. Megan Mar for Glenbrook North checks in as a freshman, while her older partner, senior Nikki Baerson, is effective with hard attacking and accurate ground strokes. South's Horne comes from good stock -- she is the daughter of Mindy Horne, who back in her playing days as Mindy Weiner won an Illinois state singles championship playing for nearby Maine East High School. Like mother, like daughter, it seems.
Second doubles court had Leah Desserich and Annie Rogula of the Titans, who play a more tactical, cerebral game, dissecting their opponents without overpowering them in defeating Spartan juniors Daniela Shekman and Alexa Stolyarov, 6-4, 6-3.
Saanya Shah and Ava Leipzig of the Titans held court three to outlast North's Sara Erickson and Tori Kazan, 6-4,6-0, while South seniors Rachel Oldham and Allison Sedenkov were able to hold off Spartan juniors Katelyn Marschall and Bella Kahn in a hotly contested match going three sets at 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.
All in all, a good day on the courts. Entertaining for the fans who braved the cold, and exhilarating for the girls competing. It's what high school sports is meant to be, and even tastier as we are fed so few rations of it during this limited fall sports season.
Finally, it is always good to see a North vs. South match up in any sport. The District 225 rivals with a long-standing, friendly (right?) rivalry have put on so many classic match ups in different sports over the years. Add this one to the list. More, please.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and just an all-around local sports fan. Any topics you'd like to see him tackle? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and include "Coach's Corner" in the subject line.