HERALD ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: NEW TRIER SENIOR MAX BENGTSSON
New Trier senior Max Bengtsson won the Class 2A boys tennis singles championship at Hersey High School on June 12.
Bengtsson (19-1) earned New Trier's first state singles title since Robert Stineman was a repeat winner in 2011. Along with the 2A runner-up doubles team of Colin Fox and John Rogers and fourth-place doubles Matthew Plunkett and Jay Wagh, Bengtsson led the Trevians to their 22nd state tennis title and their first since 2016.
In the state competition, the Northwestern-bound Bengtsson won his first five rounds without dropping a set until he defeated Hersey's Dan Sheldon, who had dealt Bengtsson his sole loss on the season, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Sheldon led the first set 5-0 when Bengtsson started gaining momentum.
Bengtsson placed seventh in 2A singles as a freshman and fifth as a sophomore.
"But his biggest contribution to our team is his on-and-off-court demeanor and sportsmanship," said Trevians coach Tad Eckert, a two-time all-stater and 1989 singles champion at New Trier in his prep days.
"He is always supportive of his teammates and the coaching staff," Eckert said. "He is willing to practice with anyone on our roster and do any drills that are suggested. Having your best player not be a prima donna is contagious and really helps get the other kids on board."
Because of his attitude, Bengtsson also won the statewide Pitchford Award for sportsmanship.
In his nominating letter, Eckert told the story of a dual match in which Bengtsson faced another team's No. 1 singles player, who had been focusing much more on track and cross country than on tennis, and would be at a severe disadvantage against Bengtsson, rated as a blue chip player by the Tennis Recruiting Network.
Eckert proposed the two players would play one set of tennis, then run a 1,600-meter race. Bengtsson readily accepted, won the tennis set but lost the race. Overall the match was recorded as a New Trier victory, 5-1.
"Max could have easily said no and won his singles match without much effort in his preferred arena. But he was willing to take on a coach's challenge for the betterment of his opponent. The other player felt great about his victory even though he didn't win a game in tennis," Eckert said.
"He has earned respect through his example and all the guys react positively to his presence."