Girls tennis: A season filled with changes is off and running
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
When you look at a glass of water filled to the halfway point, do you see it as half full of half empty?
One of just four Illinois High School Association sports (along with golf, cross country and girls swimming) currently occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 girls tennis season schedule has been filled with changes.
While the annual state tournament has been canceled, the IHSA approved a plan last month to conduct modified postseason state series tournaments in the four sports this fall.
The approved plan will allow for a single round of localized geographic competition based on COVID regions to be conducted in October -- tennis regional action will likely be held the week of Oct. 19-24.
At Neuqua Valley, the defending DuPage Valley Conference champion Wildcats feature familiar faces like returning Class 2A state doubles qualifiers Sofia Ramos and Emiley Piao along with a few new looks that include their first new varsity coach in nearly 20 years.
Will Rose has taken over the coaching duties for Trudy Bennorth, who retired last spring after guiding the girls' program to 7 sectional titles, including 5 in the last 6 years, and an 11th-place state finish in 2019.
"It has been an interesting summer," said Rose, who spent the previous 11 seasons teaching math at Romeoville before his arrival at Neuqua Valley.
"Taking over a program that has seen a lot of success, particularly as of late, means goal one is to continue that legacy of success," said Rose.
So far, so good.
The Wildcats began their season with a 7-0 victory over DVC foe Wheaton Warrenville South on Monday, receiving straight-set victories in all 3 singles and 4 doubles matches.
Sophomores Emily Chiou and Victoria Yin recorded wins at No. 1 and 2 singles, respectively, while Piao, a junior, teamed with sophomore Hannah Kestenberg for a 6-2, 6-3 victory at No. 1 doubles.
Ramos, a senior, joined junior Abby Allen for a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 2 doubles.
"This is a tightknit group," said Rose. "I've been impressed with how well they've handled everything. Their positivity is contagious. When I have told the girls things about our reduced schedule (less than 10 events), I expected them to be unhappy, but they've taken the news with an upbeat attitude."
Playing during a pandemic has its share of challenges, something his team discussed at length late this summer.
"We talked about things early in the season," said the coach. "The boys didn't have a season last spring, but I told the girls not to let anyone negate your feelings about their season. It is a season of adjustments."
Rose is pleased with another equally important aspect.
"I'm just happy to see the girls doing school things on school grounds again," he said.
Glenbard West coach Kevin Graham echoed those sentiments.
"Unlike so many other sports, we are lucky to be even playing," said Graham, whose team placed fourth in the state with a 26-4 record a year ago. "We want to enjoy this season."
The Hilltoppers return half of their doubles state championship pairing from last season in junior Shannele Lopez, who teamed with since-graduated Sienna Lopez for a straight-set title triumph over Hinsdale Central's Zoe Limparis and Katie Dollens.
Senior Emma Chirila, a top 16 doubles finisher last season, also returns to bolster a lineup that hopes to challenge Hinsdale Central and York in the powerful West Suburban Conference.
Around the courts
Lakes finished with a 4-10 team record last season but also boasted the 1A state singles champion in Megan Heuser, who defeated University High's Emma Baker, 6-1, 6-1, in the title match.
Heuser is back for her senior campaign.
"Being out on the courts participating has brought a sense of normalcy back to the girls," said Lakes coach Bryan Plinske, whose team finished tied for 5th in the state (1A) a year ago. "It has been great to see a little weight lifted from their shoulders."
Benet Academy, which placed 2nd in the state (1A) last season, is off to a solid start, having blanked Nazareth 7-0 on Aug. 25 behind No. 1 singles standout Daniella Nenadovich's 6-3, 6-1 victory over Gabby Walsh.
Nenadovich finished 6th in state singles competition a year ago.
Barrington, which tied for 14th in the state (2A) last year, opened with a 6-1 victory over Elk Grove behind singles winners Olivia Pak and Emily Yoon.
The Grenadiers' lone win came at No. 1 singles, where Peyton Oda earned a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Priyanka Bhogaraju.
Huntley, off to a 5-1 start, captured its own 5-team meet on Aug. 22 behind singles champions Ruhi Gulati and Elaina Hibbeler, and doubles winners Kylie Phommasack/Michelle Barnvos and Kareena Patel/Sunni Kwon.
Last week, West Aurora downed Rosary 6-1 behind singles winners Kate Perez, Delaney Bastian and Alex Solorio.
The Royals' lone win came from its top doubles tandem of Emily DuVall/Maya Figueras (6-1, 6-4 over Kara Fowler/Athena Ly).