Boys tennis: Stevenson's Sheelvanth-Viswanathan finish fourth at state
Arjun Sheelvanth drove.
Ozzie Viswanathan rode shotgun.
Lincolnshire residents and good friends since meeting in the fifth grade, the Stevenson tennis teammates -- and doubles partners since 2017 -- went on a three-hour road trip last October, beginning at around 8 p.m.
The seniors talked inside Sheelvanth's vehicle. They bonded.
They listened to music.
"We're both hip-hop nerds," Sheelvanth said. "We heard a whole album and some other music during the trip. We drove all over the place. Went to Highland Park, headed to Arlington Heights. We visited some other towns.
"About a third of a tank of gas was gone when we returned to Lincolnshire."
Their journey, as a Patriots' duo, ended Saturday morning at the Class 2A boys tennis state meet in … Arlington Heights. Sheelvanth/Viswanathan, seeded 9-16 in doubles, finished fourth after a 6-2, 7-6 (5) loss to Hinsdale Central's Mujtaba Ali-Khan-Rayan Nehme in gusty, balmy conditions at Hersey.
Only six other times had a Stevenson boys tennis tandem returned to Lincolnshire as a top-four finisher at state.
"It was so fun to watch them, to see them improve, to see them play their best tennis at the end of the season," said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope, whose squad of three seniors and three sophomores produced a third-place showing (29 points) behind runner-up New Trier (34) and reigning state champion Hinsdale Central (46), which had clinched its ninth state title in 13 years on Friday after two days of action.
"Ozzie and Arjun," he added, "played well against some very good teams at the beginning of the season, but they lost some tough matches, some close ones. I told them, 'It will come together. It's going to happen.' "
A three-set win against Lake Forest's Will Zordani-Oleksyi Vyshyvanyuk in a sectional semifinal on May 18 happened -- and ignited the pair of Pats, who topped compatriots/sophomore teammates Payton Adkisson and Daniel Tulchinsky in a sectional final and then earned four consecutive wins at state before falling 6-1, 6-2 in a semifinal to eventual doubles champions Joseph Daw and Noah Hernandez of Hinsdale Central on Friday.
Buddies Viswanathan and Sheelvanth were seeded third -- only third -- in the doubles draw at the nine-team Stevenson sectional in Vernon Hills.
"How about that?" Stanhope, standing near a scorer's table in a Hersey gym, said of his three-time doubles state qualifiers who live about a block apart.
"From the third seed at our sectional to fourth place at state (with 63 other doubles entrants)."
Late in the second set of the third-place doubles match at state Saturday morning, Viswanathan-Sheelvanth had a set point when Sheelvanth -- stationed a few feet behind a baseline -- had to play dodgeball with an errant shot struck by a Red Devil.
The tennis ball glanced off the right knee of a twisting, airborne Sheelvanth in the 12th game.
Point, Hinsdale Central.
"We looked at each other and laughed," Viswanathan said. "What else were we going to do? Arjun did all he could while trying to avoid getting hit."
HC's No. 2 doubles team won that game and avoided a third set by winning a 7-5 tiebreaker.
Their days as doubles partners history, Sheelvanth and Viswanathan faced each other at a baseline and embraced. The hug lasted five seconds. A warm moment on a warm day. Each patted the other's back. Both then walked, side by side, to the net to shake their opponents' hands.
"Our last match," Viswanathan said an hour later. "We were drained. Tough loss. Not the end of the world."
Each of Stevenson's state singles qualifiers, senior Zach Kim and sophomore Eric Perkowski, won 4 of 6 matches and placed seventh/eighth. Enduring a leg injury all season Kim, a 5-8 seed, edged Hinsdale Central's Ansh Shah 9-8 (6) in an eight-game, back draw match Saturday morning and nearly advanced to the fifth-place match a year after taking fourth at state in singles.
New Trier sophomore Max Bengtsson eliminated the courageous Patriot with a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 10-5 victory.
Perkowski, meanwhile, lost 1-6, 6-4, 10-5 to Bengtsson's mate Jake Zipoli in another consolation-round semifinal. But Perkowski -- half of last spring's Class 2A state runner-up doubles team -- will be the answer to a trivia question: Who was the only netter to win a set against Class 2A state singles champion Robert Daniel Schmelka of Hinsdale Central at the 2019 state meet?
Perkowski, a 9-16 seed, lost 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 to Schmelka in a state quarterfinal Friday morning.
Adkisson-Tulchinsky, also 4-2 at state, reached a fifth-round consolation round on Friday.
Stevenson's third-place effort at state was the sixth top-three showing in program history and 10th consecutive top-eight state finish under Stanhope.
Class 1A: Grayslake North freshman Christian Abban faced a familiar singles foe in a state consolation-round semifinal Saturday morning -- Glenbard South senior Alex Bergendorf, who had downed Abban 6-1, 6-0 in a third-round match Thursday. Abban, unseeded, won the first set of the rematch before dropping a 4-6, 6-1 (10-3 super tiebreaker) decision to the 5-8 seed Bergendorf. Abban finished seventh-eighth; Bergendorf placed sixth.