Boys tennis: Full-lineup sectional successes for Stevenson, Conant
Stevenson's boys tennis team built an insurmountable lead on Friday afternoon, then held off Highland Park on Saturday afternoon at the indoor courts of The Racquet Club just outside Crystal Lake to earn a championship in the Cary-Grove sectional.
Stevenson advances to the Class 2A state tournament with a full complement of players, giving the Patriots a solid chance to compete for a state trophy when play begins Thursday morning.
"With us getting everyone through, it gives us a chance along with six others," said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope.
Naperville Central, New Trier, Highland Park, Hinsdale Central and Glenbrook North are other teams who will have both singles and doubles slots occupied at state.
"The guys did what they had to on Friday to put us in good shape for next weekend at state."
Stanhope watched his team fall short in its bid to walk out with a first-place medal as Brandon Lew/Jeremy Learner (Highland Park) topped Stevenson's Matt Harvey/Brian Weisberg 6-1, 6-3 in their final. And in singles, Zach Kim took an injury default against Highland Park senior Jacob Edelchik in the championship matchup.
After their command performances over the two days, Edelchik and his doubles teammates will likely earn 1-2 seeds from the tournament committee, which convenes in Bloomington on Tuesday.
Highland Park coach Steve Rudman made the decision to pair Lew and Learner relatively late in the season.
"Once Rudman put us together for good, we've been playing real well, beginning at the Deerfield Invite three weeks ago," said Lew.
Lew/Learner defeated the No. 1 seed at Deerfield, Hinsdale Central (Hamilton/Buhelos) on their way to first-place honors.
The Giants were nearly picture perfect against the Patriots' top tandem, which earlier blasted Deerfield (Josh Fine/Charlie Chernawsky) in straight sets in a semifinal.
The final opened up with Highland Park breaking the Patriots en route to a 6-1 first-set victory, which featured some classic doubles play by the eventual champs and ended with back-to-back aces from Lew to make it 5-1.
"The score might not indicate it, but the guys played pretty well, especially in that second set," Stanhope said. "We were in position most of the time, but HP played very well today, it's just that simple."
Kim was part of what was easily the most entertaining and hard-fought contest of the day as he outlasted Barrington freshman Bradley Yu 6-1, 7-5 in a two-hour semifinal.
"If I had a do-over, I probably would have played some of the points a little differently, but (Yu) is a very good player, and it was a really difficult match which featured so many long points, and a lot of deuce games along the way," said Kim, who opted to rest a lower body injury instead of playing Edelchik for the title.
The Kim/Yu battle featured two of the top young players in the state. It featured a sometime frenetic pace, with dozens of games decided with long rallies, many ending with brilliant winners.
In the second set, Yu (20-6) came back twice to eventually get even at 5-5, staving off several match points and 9 deuces to make it 5-4, then 5-5 when he held service.
A monster second serve gave Kim (20-4) the lead for good at 6-5 before he was able to close out Barrington's freshman.
"Bradley came of age this weekend and showed that he can play with some of the best -- and that a terrific future is ahead of him if he continues to work and improve his game," said Barrington coach John Roncone. "There was a lot of fight in him, and maybe if he forces a third set, who knows what happens?"
Patriots junior Sam Komis (25-4), who has brought his play to another level during the past few weeks, defeated Yu 6-3, 6-4 in the third-place match.
Teammates Ozzie Viswanathan and Arjun Sheelvanth (17-8) are on their way to a first trip to the state tournament following their fourth-place doubles finish. The Stevenson duo fell 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) to Deerfield in the third-place match.
"We're excited to be going to state for the first time," said Sheelvanth.
Viswanathan was in the Patriots sectional starting lineup a year ago as its No. 2 man at singles, while Sheelvanth is in his first full year with the big club.
"The two of us are really good friends, and that's one of the reasons we've been able to play real well together since coach Stanhope made us his No. 2 team," said Viswanathan.
The excitement of the chase.
That's what coach Dave Koleno's Conant players were feeling all week, leading up to their chance to play for a third consecutive sectional team title.
And on Saturday afternoon in Hanover Park, the Cougars realized their dream by outdistancing the field indoors at Centre Court.
"Three in a row -- now that's something this team and tennis program can be proud of," said Koleno, after guiding his entire team into next week's Class 2A state tournament.
"It feels great to not only see us win the team championship, but also on the day that Kaahan (Motwani) and I won our first-ever sectional title at doubles," said Conant junior Nico Rosas, who in two previous seasons fell short in his bid alongside his then-partner Nikhil Modak.
Rosas/Motwani (17-1) first had to get by a talented team from Maine South (George Grecu/Daniel Spalinski), who took the Cougars to the edge before Conant prevailed 7-5, 7-5 in their semifinal contest.
"We didn't get off to a very good start, but credit Maine South, they had a lot to do with that," said Rosas.
"It's great to be going to the state tournament," said Motwani.
Conant finished with 30 points overall. Maine South (28) was close behind, with Schaumburg (14), Lake Park (12) and Addison Trail rounding out the top five.
In the doubles championship final against long-time Mid-Suburban West rivals Kevin Eberhardt/Max Brito (21-8) of Schaumburg, the Cougars once again were slow out of the blocks before picking up steam in a 2-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory.
"Once again those two lost their first set, but the thing with them is they are playing with so much confidence right now, so I knew they would get back into that match once they got going," said Koleno.
Eberhardt/Brito earned a second straight state qualification, one week after a disappointing finish at the MSL tournament.
"We were not happy with our result at the MSL, especially in our quarterfinal loss to Prospect which we feel like we let slip away, so that was more then enough motivation for Max and I coming into this weekend," said Eberhardt, a senior.
The Saxons had their hands full in their semifinal with Michael Kim/Arjun Rao (20-10) of Conant. It ended 7-5, 7-5 as Schaumburg rallied from an early deficit.
"Kevin is the calm, quiet player, while Max brings all the emotion needed for both of them together," said first-year Schaumburg coach Jon Schaefer. "That's why they complement each other so well and have had such a terrific season thus far."
Chasing a 4-1 Conant lead, the Saxons duo roared back and went up for good when they broke serve to make it 6-5. Later, in the second set, the Saxons went ahead 6-5 in a marathon 11th game before using two big serves from Eberhardt to put it away.
Kim/Rao eventually took fourth place.
In singles, it was all Danilo Kovacevic of Maine South. He dominated the field on the way to his 30th win of the season and his first sectional title.
The Hawks' top player lost only one game during his sectional run, that coming to Conant freshman Andrew Milas (17-10). He, along with teammate Vera Iyer (18-5), both advanced to state, Iyer for the second straight time.
Neither was a match for Kovacevic, whose power game on the indoor courts looked twice as big and fast as the rest of his opponents and bodes well for a high state seed.
"Last year I was dealing with mono for quite a long time," said Kovacevic, "but this year, I'm 100 percent healthy and fit, and ready to hopefully play into the third day of the tournament."