Girls tennis: Stevenson takes it all at own sectional

 
By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 10/19/2019 8:13 PM

In July, when Stevenson athletic director Tricia Betthauser was searching for a varsity girls tennis coach, she received an email from former Patriots netter Alexxis Kiven.

Kiven -- a 2014 Stevenson graduate and 2013 state doubles champion with Kendall Kirsch -- informed Betthauser that she had returned to the area after teaching at a charter school in Boston for a year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I also wrote, 'I'm interested in serving as a volunteer tennis coach at Stevenson,' " Kiven recalled Saturday morning.

Betthauser's eyes, unofficially, grew bigger than tennis balls. She then asked Kiven to stop by her office for a chat. Betthauser needed only an hour to realize Kiven and the open position would be the equivalent of a 6-0, 6-0 triumph in tennis.

A perfect match.

"I first had to ask my boss (at a tech company in the city) if she'd let me coach and work at the same time," Kiven said. "You know what? She's a Stevenson graduate, too, and was supportive right away. She told me to accept the offer.

"She also said, 'Go, Pats!' "

Kiven's first Patriots squad went 4-for-4 at the Class 2A Stevenson girls tennis sectional at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex on Saturday. The school's four entrants, including doubles champions and sisters Athena Kolli/Alaina Kolli, advanced to next weekend's state tournament and netted 33 points to capture the nine-team sectional title.

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Libertyville, behind freshman singles champion Margaret Forkner, finished runner-up with 26 points, ahead of Grayslake North (12), Mundelein (11) and Warren (10) in chilly, sunny and occasionally gusty conditions.

Friday afternoon, on Day 1 of the sectional, Stevenson freshman and No. 6 singles seed Ainika Hou upset fourth-seeded Sabrina Mella of Warren 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 in a state-qualifying quarterfinal.

"I attacked her backhand on short balls and capitalized at the net," Hou said. "First set, I felt confident. Second set, a little tight. But my confidence returned in the third set, as I won points at the net. Coach always says, on volleys, 'Anticipate, move forward.' "

Libertyville junior Lily VanDixhorn, the top seed in singles, had to stop in the middle of the second set of her semifinal against Stevenson freshman Sonia Mehta. Shin splints, brought on by wearing new tennis shoes earlier in the week, forced the Wildcat to retire after trailing 6-4, 3-0.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The counterpuncher -- who defaulted her third-place match with Hou -- had qualified for state a third time with an easy quarterfinal win Friday afternoon.

Forkner, following her 6-2, 6-1 defeat of Hou in the other semifinal Saturday morning, faced a determined foe in Mehta for the title. Mehta claimed the first set, 6-3, before bowing 6-2 in the second set. Forkner, seeded second, inhaled some fruit before the third set and then won that set, 6-2.

"Positive attitude," Forkner said of what turned it around for her. "I played to win. I stayed aggressive. But so much of that match came down to my mind. If you put your mind to something and stay positive while doing it, you can do anything."

The Kolli tandem -- the reigning Class 2A state doubles runner-up -- won the DNA duel with Libertyville sisters Alexandra and Lauren Berns in a 6-0, 6-1 semifinal before taking the all-Pats doubles final with a 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Stevenson seniors Maggie Gong and Ellen Ma.

Berns-squared then got edged by Mundelein senior Mikayla Edquiban and junior Alexis Hyde 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in the doubles match for third place. Looks exhausting, doesn't it? So was Edquiban/Hyde's three-hour, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 loss to Gong/Ma in a semifinal.

"I'm going to babysit five kids [age range of 6 to 10] tonight," the left-handed Edquiban, now a three-time state doubles qualifier, said wearily after her sixth set of the day.

Kiven's charges?

They're still thrilled that they get to be guided by a former state champ who knows their language, knows exactly what they're feeling in matches and drowns them out, frequently, with her fence-rattling rendition of "Go, Pats!"

"She's such an encouraging coach," a grateful Hou said. "I had close to no friends when tryouts began. But Coach Kiven, along with my new teammates, made me feel comfortable. We bonded. We ate brunch together one day. We worked out with Coach Kiven on another day."

The Class 2A girls state tennis meet runs from Oct. 24-26, with Buffalo Grove serving as Tournament Central.

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