Boys tennis: Focused Stevenson dominates own sectional
Shortly after the end of a point in the doubles final at the Class 2A Stevenson boys tennis sectional in Vernon Hills on Saturday morning, Stevenson senior Ozzie Viswanathan looked at his partner, senior Arjun Sheelvanth, in utter disbelief.
Viswanathan, his mouth agape and eyes widening, then raised his hands to cover his temples, perhaps hoping the gesture would help him wrap his head around what he had just witnessed.
The quick-handed Sheelvanth had somehow handled a zippy groundstroke -- struck at point-blank range -- with a zippier reflex volley from the backhand side in the middle of a first-set point. Ninety-nine times out of 100, a netter at the net either turns his back or fails to get his racket anywhere near such a sizzling yellow sphere.
"Quick. Yes, Arjun is quick," Patriots coach Tom Stanhope said. "But sometimes he's too quick. The ball, during another kind of point, sometimes appears huge to him. His eyes get huge. And then he gets too aggressive."
Sheelvanth harnessed that feistiness way more often than not at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex, as he and Viswanathan defeated Stevenson sophomores Payton Adkisson/Daniel Tulchinsky 6-2, 6-1 for their first sectional championship in three tries.
It was an all-Stevenson singles final, too, with Patriots sophomore Eric Perkowski downing senior and less-than-100-percent Zach Kim 6-1, 6-0 on a pleasant day for outdoor tennis.
Stanhope's talent-laden edition easily won the team segment with a 36-point total to runner-up Lake Forest's 26 and advanced all four entrants to next weekend's state meet. Libertyville took third (12 points), and Mundelein (8) and Warren (8) tied for fourth place.
The Patriots' sectional title was the program's 10th in a row under Stanhope, whose squad tied for runner-up honors at state last spring.
"Not a lot," he said, referring to how much influence his coaching has had on one of the state's perennial top-10 contenders. "I get to coach at a school with 4,500 students. I get to coach players -- really good players -- who are 'team' guys, guys who care about their teammates and truly enjoy competing for the school.
Kim praised Stanhope for helping him defeat Lake Forest freshman Sahil Conjeevaram 6-4, 6-2 in a sectional semifinal Saturday morning. Kim's season-long lower-body injury hampered him throughout the match. During court changeovers Stanhope reminded Kim to use his powerful serve to shorten the points and to keep his service returns deep and up the middle, the latter piece of advice giving Kim the best opportunity to position himself for a put-away.
In between several points, Kim, fourth in singles at state a year ago and a consummate teammate, cheered loudly for points won by Stevenson's doubles teams on another bank of courts at VHAC. Perkowski -- half of the Class 2A state runner-up doubles team in 2018 -- also turned into a vocal, racket-toting Pats booster during his semi, a resourceful 6-2, 6-1 defeat of Lake Forest sophomore Vishvam Bhagat.
Perkowski and Kim each recorded a pair of aces in their singles final.
"But Eric," a smiling Kim noted, "hit 65 winners on me, or something like that."
Lake Forest seniors Will Zordani and Oleksyi Vyshyvanyuk were winners this spring in their first two doubles encounters with Sheelvanth and Viswanathan. The Scouts duo needed three sets to edge Sheelvanth/Viswanathan at the Deerfield Invitational on May 4, before rolling in straight sets in the No. 1 doubles final at the North Suburban Conference meet last weekend.
Sheelvanth/Viswanathan then stunned Zordani/Vyshyvanyuk by racing to a 6-1, 4-1 lead in a sectional semifinal Saturday morning. The Pats later had 3 match points -- and lost all 3.
Zordani/Vyshyvanyuk forced a third set after securing the middle set via a 9-7 tiebreaker.
"The way we played in the second set … it was too safe," admitted Sheelvanth, who teamed with Viswanathan to win three of five doubles matches at state a year ago. "We learned from that. We changed our approach in the third set (and won 6-2). Then we played looser, more relaxed, in the final against our teammates."
The three-day Class 2A boys tennis state meet starts Thursday morning at host Hersey and many other sites.
"We'll give the guys a day off on Monday," Stanhope said. "Tuesday and Wednesday we'll talk to the guys about the importance of the back-draw matches at state. You have to scrap for wins at state, battle hard. Every day. Especially in the back draw after the first day. Players at that point of the meet are usually tired. Some don't even want to be there.
"We'll make sure our guys dig for wins in the back draw."
Stevenson has finished in the top eight at each of the last nine state meets.
Lakes sectional: In Class 1A, Grayslake North won its first sectional championship in school history.
The Knights' Christian Abban was the singles champion, while his teammates Dante Komater and Cole Schultze placed second in doubles.
Wauconda's Dev Patel and Lakes' Andrew Butler finished third and fourth, respectively, in singles. Also advancing in doubles were Lakes' team of Jack Murrie/Aaron Oster and Wauconda's team of Chase Hayden/Alan Tondryk.
Grayslake North (22 points) edged runner-up Wauconda (21).
Vernon Hills sectional: It was too much Natan Spear and his teammates at Chicago Northside who outscored the host Cougars 22-17 to win the Class 1A sectional trophy.
The 1A state runner-up from a year ago was an easy winner at singles over his Northside mate Jacob Watson, while Nicholas Biernadski-Justin Penados beat Vernon Hills' top team of Pranav Vaswani/Eric Rodriguez (15-13), 6-3, 6-1.
Vernon Hills' No. 2 team of Sujay Voleti/Cooper Guillaume (18-10) beat Fenton's Jeff Andrews/Kyle Cacioppo for third place.
"Aditya played well in his first sectional ever, and both of our doubles teams did so also, especially (Friday) to get themselves into the state tournament," Vernon Hills coach Doug Gerber said.