Girls tennis: Fremd's eager to play one more hand

 
By Jonathan Jones
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 10/18/2017 4:45 PM
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  • Fremd senior doubles standouts Julia Smiarowska, left, and Kate Bodensteiner, on their way to a Hersey sectional title on Saturday in Arlington Heights.

      Fremd senior doubles standouts Julia Smiarowska, left, and Kate Bodensteiner, on their way to a Hersey sectional title on Saturday in Arlington Heights. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Doubles players Kellie, left, and Elsie Ha, are a key part of Fremd's history-making girls tennis team, which begins state tourney competition on Thursday.

      Doubles players Kellie, left, and Elsie Ha, are a key part of Fremd's history-making girls tennis team, which begins state tourney competition on Thursday. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

The Fremd girls tennis team winded down practice Tuesday just like any other day.

Their demeanor? Decidedly relaxed. The average person would not be able to judge the strong hand disguised by the Vikings' poker face.

This, from a team that laid down a royal flush last weekend in the Class 2A Hersey sectional, where all four positions from Fremd gained earned state tournament berths for the first time in school history.

Seniors Kate Bodensteiner, Julia Smiarowska, Elsie Ha, junior Diya Matta, sophomore Kellie Ha and freshman Kyra Emmanouilidis have become well known for their achievement at school.

Although Fremd tied Buffalo Grove in 2010 for a sectional championship, the Bison technically won the tiebreaker. Fremd's last outright team sectional title had been earned in 1998.

"They made coaching easy," said Fremd coach Lauren O'Donnell of her unique group. "They're the hardest -working individuals. They put the expectations on themselves, and they surpassed what I thought they could do. I always thought this team had talent, but the most important part of this team was their integrity and their will to compete throughout the season."

Smiarowska/Bodensteiner, the No. 1 doubles team, punched their third and final ticket to the state tournament by winning their first sectional championship. The pair, along with first time qualifier Elsie Ha are known to the team as the "big three." The four-year trio of varsity performers is responsible for building a foundation for the future and are poised for a final run in the state tourney, which begins Thursday at MSL sites an concludes Saturday at Buffalo Grove.

As a tandem, Bodensteiner/Smiarowska (33-3) have already posted two top-16 state finishes. In this year's state tournament, the two are seeded in the top eight. Their best match this fall came against Glenbard West's Molly Rueth/Grace Giffin at the Rolling Meadows Invite, where Bodensteiner/Smiarowska earned a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

"We're all really excited," Bodensteiner said. "The brackets are really competitive now that we're down to 64 teams. We just have to leave it on the field."

"We're not feeling tense," Smiarowska said. "I feel like we do better under pressure. This week we've felt like we we're famous, with all the teachers saying congratulations."

Matta (28-4) is entering her second run in the state tournament. In 2016, the Vikings' No. 1 singles player finished in the top 32.

In her sophomore year, Matta transferred to Fremd from Elk Grove. Although she dealt with a string of injuries last year, Matta still qualified to state. She returned better than ever this year, picking up both a conference title and a sectional championship. The Fremd junior's top match was in that same MSL tournament, where she notched a 6-4, 7-5 win over Palatine sophomore state qualifier Kanae Kawai.

"Everyone was really welcoming," said Matta. "I really like this atmosphere at Fremd. I really like to play under pressure. At state, we just use our match experience and everything we learned in practice. We've played so many good teams this year. I think we're ready."

The Ha sisters and Emmanouilidis both finished as runner-ups to their aforementioned teammates at sectionals.

Elsie Ha, a pivotal member of Fremd's growth for the past four seasons, played singles up until this season when she paired up with her sophomore sister Kellie.

The Ha siblings (28-4) reached the goal they set at the beginning by winning an MSL title. Their efforts were also key in a dual victory against Barrington.

"State is definitely overwhelming," Kellie said. "Diya, Kate and Julia have been to state for a while. They've given us advice and given us comfort since they've been there before. Papa Ha reminds us that you should practice the way you play (in a match)."

Elsie points to Fremd's dual victory against Barrington as key to building confidence.

"That was a turning point," Elsie said. "We can win matches and work together to beat tougher teams."

In her first season of high school tennis, Emmanouilidis (32-4) tallied an MSL title at No. 2 singles and was runner-up to teammate Matta at the sectional.

Emmanouilidis realizes she's on the big stage, but has certainly already experienced tough match play as many of her USTA foes of the past are in the high school state tournament field. The Vikings freshman's biggest moment so far this fall was upsetting Kawai in the Hersey sectional.

"My coach has been training me since I came here, so I was ready and grateful for him," Emmanouilidis said. "Everyone was so welcoming, allowing a freshman to come to this lineup. They are always so helpful and I always see them in the hallway. It's been an amazing year. It felt great to win conference. My family was so proud of me."

Fremd will play the hand it has been dealt with the first state matches as follows on Thursday: Bodensteiner/Smiarowska face off against Huntley seniors Allison Simons/Merritt Whiteside at Barrington; Matta competes with Boylan Catholic sophomore Natalie Muldowney at Buffalo Grove, the Ha sisters meet O'Fallon sophomores Miley Brunner/Kate Macaluso at Hoffman Estates and Emmanouilidis takes on Quincy sophomore Olivia Clayton at Fremd.

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