Boys tennis: Scouting the state tournament, Northwest and Lake County

 
By Mike Garofola
Daily Herald Correspondent

When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Host: Tom Pitchford Tennis Complex (Hersey)

Additional Sites: First two days at all Mid-Suburban League tennis venues.

Saturday: Championship rounds at Hersey (9 a.m.)

From Thursday through Saturday, the eyes of the high school boys tennis world will be fully focused on the 2019 IHSA state tournament.

Last year, for the first time, the state would crown individual and team champions in two classes, with the 1A team title decided in thrilling fashion. Not so at 2A where Hinsdale Central won going away over Stevenson and New Trier, each of whom tied for second.

Here's a quick look at all of those who qualified from the Northwest suburbs and Lake County:

SINGLESChristian Abban (Grayslake North, 18-7): Knights freshman helped lead coach Johnny Kent's team to its first 1A sectional title in program history after claiming the singles crown. "Christian is just an all-around great player, who possesses a wicked forehand, along with a great serve that really puts a lot of pressure on his opponents," says Kent. "His sectional final match was clearly the highlight of the year, and to see him dominate a top-level opponent like he did could hopefully will inspire a nice run for him this weekend. First round opponent: Hassaan Khan, Glenwood.

Andrew Butler (Lakes, 10-11): This UW-Oshkosh-bound senior turned his season around early on according to head coach Bryan Plinske. "In our second match against Carmel (Butler) and the guys showed great mental toughness by winning three matches, all in three sets, then coming back the very next day to defeat a tough divisional opponent at Grayslake Central. Those results showed that hard work, mental strength and confidence will pay off," said Plinske. First round opponent: 3-4 seed, Michael Rooney from Nazareth Academy.

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Casey Hishinuma (Fremd, 20-10): Vikings top player impressed last season as a freshman by going 2-2 in his first appearance at state, after a strong effort at the MSL tourney and one week later at sectionals. "Casey has grown up as a player and person, especially with the way he handles adversity this year," said Fremd coach Matt Duncan, just before the sophomore rolled past two opponents last Saturday to win the sectional singles crown. First round opponent: Niko Papachristanthou (O'Fallon).

Vera Iyer (Conant, 18-8): Four-year starter became a four-time state qualifier last weekend (two at singles) after earning a spot in the field of 64 a year ago with Nico Rosas, himself a four-time qualifier. "I dealt with an injury early on, and missed some time, but it feels good to be healthy and ready for my last state tournament of my career," said Iyer, who has been admitted to the highly respected Kelley Business School at Indiana next fall. First round opponent: Sujan Garapati (Latin).

Zach Kim (Stevenson, 22-4): This four-time state qualifier enjoyed a memorable year last season, which included his third North Suburban Conference title and an incredible three-day run at the 3A tournament which ended with a fourth-place finish. "It's the best time of the year and one that I am really looking forward to," begins Kim, a 5-8 seed who is Northwestern-bound next fall. "Last year you saw a 9-16 seed like myself go deep into the tournament, and this year it won't be any different so for me you've got to out and play your best to beat the best." First round opponent: Metea Valley junior Aleksander Schroeder.

Kamil Kozerski (Maine West, 26-4): Kozerski and his doubles partner Jason Elangical lost 6-4, 6-2 to Glenbrook South last year in their state qualifying match, but now as the Warriors' top player, the sophomore has taken off to establish himself as one to watch not only this weekend but for the next two years. "It's a thrill and an honor to be representing Maine West at state and I cannot wait for play to begin on Thursday," said Kozerski. First round opponent: Conor Bajuk from St. Charles North.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Dev Patel (Wauconda, 15-9): Bulldogs four-year starter began his career at No. 1 doubles for head coach Ryan Whitfield then became a terrific No. 2 behind 2018 state medal winner Brian Hackman. "Even as a freshman, Dev would prove to be a great leader and he's continued to do so while also becoming a terrific singles player who is capable of having a long run this weekend," says Whitfield of his captain, who will attend Illinois in the fall. First round opponent: Akash Pardeshi (Urbana).

Eric Perkowski (Stevenson, 24-2): Patriots super sophomore came this close to making program history when he and Sei Merneedi lost in the state final to Hinsdale Central. The freshman duo was a remarkable 24-2 overall, winning three straight dramatic three-setters to advance to the final. Perkowski proclaimed his goal was to win a state singles crown this time around and his sectional title a week ago should provide the inspiration for such a feat. Perkowski grabbed a 9-16 seed, and will play Jacob John (Hinsdale South) in his opener then possibly Hishinuma from Fremd and with a win over the Vikings' sophomore sets up a potential match against 5-8 seed Quinten Nevenhoven of Rockford Auburn.

Aditya Sabharwal (Vernon Hills): Being the No. 1 is tough enough but as a freshman it's near impossible when facing players with plenty of experience, size and strength. Sabharwal was winless in his first eight high school matches, four of which were against state qualifiers but when he won his first two at sectionals it insured safe passage into the 1A state field. First round opponent: 5-8 seed, Kyele Mossman of Teupolis.

Max Sheldon (Hersey, 30-2): The two-time MSL champion was in the midst of playing some of his best tennis when 3-4 seed Jeremy Learner of Highland Park stunned the Huskies' sophomore in the final at the Highland Park sectional. "(Sheldon) was obviously disappointed with that loss to Learner but with a season this long and the quality of his opponents you're going to have a loss here and there," said Andy Walton, Hersey's head coach. "He's obviously one of the top players in the state and quite capable of winning it all and I know he'll be ready to roll on Thursday. The 5-8 seed will open against Sahil Conjeevaram (Lake Forest).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jackson Spurck (Palatine, 15-11): Pirates star sophomore made history when he became the first to advance since Rafael Robles-Mikey Wolff did so in 2011. "Jackson is so much more mentally strong this year, he's a player who will fight hard in every match, placing great value on every point and his first serve percentage has improved dramatically this year," says his coach, Jim Lange. First round opponent: Bryce Ranchero of Romeoville.

Ammar Wazir (Barrington, 28-7): Broncos sophomore is now a two-times state qualifier, adding to a pair of MSL titles at No. 2 singles for head coach John Roncone. "Ammar is a much better ball striker and overall player from a year ago. He showed great shot making ability in his sectional semifinal and has shown he can compete with the top players," Roncone said. First round opponent: 3-4 seed Max Bengtsson of New Trier.

Bradley Yu (Barrington, 23-3): Two-time state qualifier won his second straight sectional title last weekend, leading to the junior earning a 5-8 seed. "Bradley went through a bit of a rough patch in his play, but it looks like he came out of it in that final set he played at sectionals," said Broncos coach John Roncone. "He's had a very solid year and he's certainly put in the time to be 100 percent ready for this weekend." First round opponent: Glenbrook South senior Michael Bukhalo (25-7), who was a state qualifier a year ago at doubles.

DOUBLESBarrington (Matt D'Amore-Dylan Er, 28-6): DePaul-bound Er became a three-time state qualifier and he and D'Amico won their sectional title, his second, last year with-then partner Kyle Shuff. "Matt and Dylan have played well against other top pairs and they have shown they can bounce back from tough games," said Barrington coach John Roncone "They are confident, compliment each other real well, and are capable of having a good tournament this weekend." The 9-16 seed Broncos open against a familiar club from Hersey, Kevin Mi-Jace Coffaro at Fremd.

Barrington (Pranav Gadiraju-Aryan Sharma, 12-2): Installed as the Broncos' No. 2 team during the first week of April Gadiraju, a freshman, and the junior Sharma responded with an MSL title, followed by earning a trip to state. "They can both play all-court games, their ability to win points off both ground strokes and at the net has contributed to their success thus far," said Barrington coach Johns Roncone. Sharma is a 2018 state qualifier at doubles. First round opponent: 9-16 seed Stevenson (Adkisson-Tulchinsky).

Conant (Roberto Macher-Rameen Marzban, 3-1): The decision to pair his top-flight man at No. 2 singles (Marzban) with Macher proved to be genius by Koleno, who watched this team advance into the sectional final where it fell in straight sets to the Fremd team of Zheng-Srivasta. "Roberto and Rameen both have great attitudes and chemistry and are capable of making some noise this weekend at state," says Koleno. Macher, a sophomore, and his freshman partner begin play against the Reardon brothers (Michael-Ryan) from Loyola Academy.

Conant (Andrew Milas-Kaahan Motwani, 14-12): This is the second consecutive appearance for the Cougars' duo who were placed together late last year by Koleno to give the club two terrific teams, both of whom advanced. "The guys played their best tennis of the year when they had to when they beat a very good Schaumburg team (6-3, 6-1) to qualify for state," said Koleno of Milas-Motwani, both now three-time qualifiers. Motwani will attend Illinois next fall. First round opponent: Ben Aizenberg-Max Rosenfeld from Highland Park.

Fremd (Ryan Zheng-Arjun Srivasta, 23-6): The Zheng-Srivasta team, together all season long, would rebound from a third-place finish at the MSL tournament to win a sectional title. The Vikings' sophomores outlasted the Motwani-Milas team from Conant in the semifinals then would defeat another rival from Conant (Macher-Marzban) 6-1, 6-3 in the final. "Ryan and Arjun are starting to come together and at the perfect time," says Duncan. The Vikings will open at home against the Tyler Beck-Christopher Smith team from Neuqua Valley.

Fremd (Sean Hishinuma-Andrew Yin, 22-8): Vikings used an upset win over the No. 2 seed last year to advance into the state tournament to become the first doubles team since 2013 to qualify. This season, the No. 2 team has already won more than a year ago (18). "Sean and Andrew have been playing better of late and when they are at their best they can compete with some of the best," said Duncan. First round opponent: Max Baum-Ryan Lederer of Highland Park.

Grayslake North (Dante Komater-Cole Schultze, 15-12): The Komatar-Schultze team was deemed heavy underdogs by their coach when facing No. 1 Lakes at the NLCC Tournament but when the North duo came back from being down in the third set to record a 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 victory, it secured the No. 1 seed at sectionals. "Those guys never quit, so they grind out points, games and sets," says Kent. "Cole is ferocious at the net, and Dante is Mr. Consistent so the two of them complement each other really well. Komatar is headed to Notre Dame next fall on a full academic scholarship, while Schultze will play soccer at IIT. First round opponent: Pranav Vaswani-Eric Rodriguez, Vernon Hills.

Hersey (Kevin Mi-Jace Coffaro, 24/7: Not even their head coach could have foreseen such an impressive effort last spring when Mi-Coffaro were made the Huskies' No. 1 team just prior to sectionals. Once there, they would stun the favored Highland Park team to claim first place. "Kevin and Jace have starred for us the past two seasons, and making two straight appearances in the state tournament is an awesome accomplishment,' says Walton. First round opponent: D'Amore-Er from Barington.

Hersey (Dan Gankov-Kacper Pasielek, 15-4): When Walton paired Leyden transfer (Gankov) alongside the freshman Pasielek, the two former singles players were an instant smash hit. "Coming from their spots as our Nos. 2 and 3 singles players, they've embraced some of the doubles concepts and would show incredible courage and fight to finish second at sectionals," says a proud Walton. The Huskies will open this morning with 3-4 seed Griffin Foster-Christo Maltby from Glenbard West.

Lakes (Jack Murrie-Aaron Oster, 15-11): Lakes' No. 2 team surprised the field when, as an unseeded team, they beat Antioch in a pigtail match then defeated No. 6 seed Woodstock before going under the lights to knock off No. 4 Grayslake Central in three sets to qualify. The two-year varsity starters open against Daniel Han-Charlie McGowen of Chicago U-High.

Stevenson (Payton Adkisson-Daniel Tulchinsky, 23-5): Patriots head coach Tom Stanhope opened the season with Sheelvanth-Viswanathan as his No. 1 doubles team then moved his two sophomores into the top spot in the middle of April. Once there they proved they belonged by winning their first seven matches at the position including three over 2019 state qualifiers, the most impressive coming against Glenbrook North (Riad-Park) who finished top eight a year ago. First round opponent: Barrington (Gadiraju-Sharma).

Stevenson (Arjun Sheelvanth-Ozzie Viswanathan, 19-6): On nearly every tennis club around, the Sheelvanth-Viswanathan team would be anointed the No. 1 spot in the lineup, if not for playing behind a top flight team ahead of them. Nonetheless, the Pats' No. 2 team is still a dangerous opponent on the other side of the net, witnessed by their third consecutive appearance at state, and second straight 9-16 seed. Sheelvanth will attend Illinois next year, his teammate Carleton College in Minnesota. First round opponent: Andrew McCullough-Dylan Firestone from Andrew in their state opener.

Vernon Hills (Pranav Vaswani-Eric Rodriguez, 17-13): The junior Vaswani qualified last season along with Andrey Shor, one of two Cougars' teams to advance from sectionals, then took on a new partner this spring and found himself back in the state field. "Eric and I get along really well, on and off the court, and that's the secret behind playing good doubles," said Vaswani of his sophomore partner, who will play Grayslake North seniors Dante Komater-Cole Schultze.

Vernon Hills (Sujay Voleti-Cooper Guillaume, 20-5): Voleti-Guillaume reeled off 17 straight victories, all but one by straight set, before having their streak end against 2A state qualifier Highland Park two weeks ago. The Cougars' duo, who has recorded nine victories over 2A opponents, will open at Elk Grove against the 5-8 seed from Normal U-High, Carter Burk-Brevin Knight.

Wauconda (Chase Hayden-Alan Tondryk, 7-7): Hayden, who will play soccer next fall at Marian University, was at No. 1 doubles last season for the Bulldogs, while the Michigan-bound Tondryk handled things at No. 2. "Chase had an injury at the start of the year which kept him out for a month but the two of them really came together after a close three-set loss to Lakes at conference. It was then I knew they had a chance to do something special," says Whitfield of his top team, who never played the sport upon entering high school. First round opponent: St. Ignatius, Sener Gunsel-Aeneas Hines.

State of AffairsTo bet against reigning state champion Hinsdale Central is like saying the sun will set in the east. The Red Devils have plenty of firepower, including all four of theirs teams earning top 16 status. There's plenty of history on Central's side as well after hoisting its 24th state trophy in program history, and sixth in the last decade, last season.

New Trier, Stevenson, Naperville Central and MSL champion Barrington will have a say in the final outcome, thanks in part to all four clubs advancing four teams into the tournament.

In the 1A tournament, fans may remember the fight to the finish a year ago when just 4 points separated the top four, which ended with Chicago U-High and Normal U-High sharing the title with 28 points each. Fourth-place Chicago Northside (24 points) must be considered the favorite as it enters with three of its teams with top eight seeds, beginning with state runner-up Natan Speer the one all will chase at singles.

Here's a look at the top four seeds at singles and doubles in the 1A and 2A tournaments respectively:

2A singles: Dominic Cuchran (Lyons Township, 27-2), Jeremy Learner (Highland Park, 19-2), Robert Daniel Schmelka (Hinsdale Central, 12-4), Max Bengtsson (New Trier, 14-0).

2A doubles: Hinsdale Central (Joseph Daw-Noah Henandez, 15-1), New Trier (Dylan Drier-Jay Weigh, 19-1), Naperville Central (Naveen Ramakrishnan-Ammaar Saeed, 18-1), Glenbard West (Christo Maltby-Griffin Foster, 23-1).

1A singles: Natan Spear (Chicago Northside), Dorath Chamarthi (Normal U-High), Michael Rooney (Nazareth Academy), David Batka (Montini Catholic)

2A doubles: Normal U-High (Thomas Moh-Tyler Bowers), Chicago Northside (Nicholas Biernadski-Justin Penados), St. Ignatius (Billy Taylor-Jamieson Katz), Wheaton Academy (Owen Setran-Devin Greeno).

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