Girls tennis: Stevenson finds an opening against Lake Forest
Last season, the Stevenson girl's tennis team knocked loudly on the door, only to finish as bridesmaids to eventual champ Hinsdale Central in the state finals.
This season, the obvious goal is crystal clear: knock that door down and slam it shut on the school's first state title in girls tennis since 2005-06.
Before going after the big prize, though, there are several challenging speed bumps along the way and on Tuesday afternoon, the Pats ran into a pretty formidable one in host Lake Forest, another top-tier team in these parts.
As expected when these two get together, it came down to the final match to decide the winner. And with all eyes on them, the No. 2 doubles team of seniors Sam Burger and Ambika Singh pulled out a huge 7-6 (9-7), 5-7, 6-1 victory over the Scouts' Emily Asmussen and Alex Slomba.
"We just kept telling each other, 'Don't get down.' We seem to do our best when our backs are against the wall," said Singh, whose service ace ended the match and enabled Stevenson to pull out a 4-3 victory in the North Suburban Conference opener for both squads. It also kept the Pats unbeaten at 7-0 overall and 3-0 in dual matches.
"Just stay in the moment," continued Singh. "Sam and I complement each other so well out there. My strength is at the net, while she's so good at setting up points."
Both players had their 'A' game going in that final set.
Stevenson had drawn even about an hour earlier when the No. 4 doubles team of senior Carly Lefar and sophomore Sneha Yellapantula pulled out a grueling 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Lake Forest's Kelly Kunz and Olivia Weldon to even the match at 3-3 before the heroics by Burger and Singh.
Stevenson's doubles teams had swept all four matches on the afternoon, and a lot of that had to do with the kind of attitude Singh referenced.
"We're much stronger mentally and as a team," said senior Bronwyn Heidkamp, who played No. 3 doubles last year and this fall has joined forces with junior Alyssa Glaser. They cruised past Lake Forest's Cody Avis and Nika Belova 6-3, 6-2 at No. 2 doubles on Tuesday afternoon.
"A big key to how we've been doing is bonding and sticking together," Heidkamp said. "(Alyssa) is so strong with her serve and it really complements my volleys."
Lake Forest jumped to a 1-0 lead after freshman Kiley Rabjohns beat Stevenson sophomore Athena Kolli 6-0, 6-1. In seven matches so far, Rabjohns has only lost 12 games.
Stevenson's top duo in senior Kate Harvey and Elizabeth Ferdman then evened things up at a match apiece after making quick work of Lake Forest's Salma Alsikafi and Julianna Roman 6-2, 6-4. Harvey and Ferdman are eyeing a top finish at state. Last year, Ferdman teamed with the graduated Gina Kondos, taking home a second-place state medal.
The Scouts then posted another singles victory when Emily Gorczynski outlasted Stevenson sophomore Ellen Ma 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 at No. 2 singles.
Then at No. 3 singles, Lake Forest's Anisha Paruchuru outlasted Patriots sophomore Maggie Gong 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-3.
"Of course, we want to win every match we play, but more importantly we want to use every opportunity to improve," said seventh-year Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope, heading into the season. "We've scheduled a lot of very difficult teams this season with the hope that we can learn as much as possible about ourselves. The idea is that we peak at the end of the season."