Boys tennis: Naperville Central takes team championship
Nobody likes to play for third place -- or fifth place for that matter.
Just ask the Naperville Central trio of Ryan Roegner, Bill Zhang and Martin Matov.
Those matches had more meaning than ever to the Redhawks' stars and their program Saturday afternoon at the Thomas Pitchford Tennis Complex in Arlington Heights.
In dramatic fashion Rogener, Zhang and Matov refused to fold under the immense pressure of the moment to win their respective matches. That's how the Redhawks won the Class 2A team championship for the first time.
"Of course I'd rather have been playing in the final instead of third place, but the importance of me winning for my teammates, the program and myself far outweighed anything else -- and that was the focus when I took the court," Roegner (33-3) said after taking a moment to chat inside tournament central before racing outside to watch the doubles team of Zhang-Matov collect their fifth place medal.
Roegner's 7-5, 6-1 singles victory over Jeffrey Chen of New Trier clinched at least a share of the championship trophy, while the Zhang-Matov 6-4, 7-5 triumph over New Trier's Reed Bianucci and Jake Zipoli gave the Redhawks sole possession of the prize hardware.
"Oh yeah, we knew what a win over New Trier would mean for the team," Zhang said after mobbed by teammates following their historic win. The victory gave Naperville Central its eighth top-10 finish and best finish since its second-place effort in 1984.
"There was a lot of suspense going on out there today," said Redhawks coach Dan Brown, whose boys outscored New Trier 28-26 and third-place Hinsdale Central, which finished with 25 points.
"Everyone on this team contributed to this state championship, including our freshman at No. 2 (Joseph Li), who got us three big points over the three days, as well as our two dubs team, Mark Polowczak and Ammaar Saeed (23-4), who earned 5 points toward the cause.
"Both Ryan and our No. 1 team bounced back from heartbreaking losses (and) really came through when we needed them to, and that was big for us in the end."
Roegner appeared on his way toward a spot in the final with eventual state champion Jacob Edelchik of Highland Park until a late uprising by Maine South junior Danilo Kovacevic dashed his dreams.
"He had a big forehand and serve, which was kept in check for most of our match, but he really got on a roll early into that third set, and there just wasn't much I could do from then on," Roegner said.
Despite a huge contingent of New Trier fans just on the edge of the court, Roegner showed terrific pace and a lively game to slowly put Chen away for good.
His teammates overcame its stunning three-set defeat at the hands of eventual state champion Edwardsville (Alex Gray-Zach Trimpe), a match in which the Redhawks duo was serving for match point only to watch the Tigers come back to win 7-4 in a tiebreaker to advance.
"That was so tough coming back from," said Matov, who along with his California-bound mate Zhang registered a huge victory over the No. 2 team from New Trier (Dylan Drier-Nathan Friedman) in their next contest to grab two key points away from their closest challengers.
Edwardsville (34-0) fought off a valiant effort from Hinsdale Central's Trevor Hamilton and Andrew Buehlos in three sets to give the Tigers their first state title in boys tennis. Edelchik (28-1) survived three straight three-set matches on his way to his state title.
Peter Alex and Namit Sambare of Hinsdale South and their doubles counterparts from Naperville North, Kirk Williams-Sam Liu, both went out in the quarterfinals of the consolation round.
In Class 1A Benet came away with a well-deserved third-place team trophy just behind state champion Dunlap and runner-up Latin School of Chicago.
Michael Hand's boys collected 23 points, 1 less than Latin, and 5 behind Dunlap, which was fueled by singles champion Victor Spoliodoro, who won all six of his contests via straight sets.
Benet's freshmen doubles team of Danny McGuigan and Casey Schrader were bumped into the third-place match after their 6-2, 6-2 loss to Steven Chacko and David Wu of Dunlap.
Once there the Benet duo fell to Metamora in straight sets.
"There were times this weekend when those two played like veterans, and other times like the freshmen that they are, (but) all-in-all, I would say they had a terrific state tournament, highlighted by their upset win over the No. 2 seed Normal U-High in the quarters in three sets," said Hand, who was hoping to record a double after leading the girls program to a Class 1A title last fall.
Senior Patrick McGuigan missed on his chance for a top-five finish following his 6-3, 6-3 singles defeat at the hands of Nicholas Welker from Burlington Central.
Patrick McGuigan, who will play at Denison University in Ohio next fall, went 5-2 over the three days to push his overall record to a dazzling 37-6, which included a sectional championship to help Benet win its own sectional.
The Danny McGuigan-Schrader (30-11) team was second overall at sectionals to Wheaton Academy's Ty Krill-Owen Setran, who finished sixth this weekend.
"I wasn't even going to play this season because soccer is the sport that I concentrate on, but having Ty as a partner made it easy for me to decide to come out this spring," Setran said.