Girls tennis: Neuqua Valley garners sectional championship
Meera Baid made a slight fist pump, and yelled at herself "this is mine."
At last, it is.
Baid, three times a third-place finisher at sectionals, ended her high school career on Saturday on top.
The Metea Valley senior beat Neuqua Valley sophomore Emily Chiou for the third time this season, this time 6-4, 6-1, to win the singles championship at the Class 2A West Aurora Sectional that was concluded indoors at Vaughan Athletic Center.
Baid (18-1), who won all four sectional matches in straight sets, earlier Saturday beat Batavia's Alex Klein 6-1, 6-0 in the semifinal. She won't get a fourth trip to state this year with the IHSA postseason only running through sectionals, but seemed perfectly content.
"It's my last match of high school tennis, so it meant a lot," Baid said. "I feel grateful that sectionals happened. I didn't expect the season to go that far."
After a back-and-forth first set with Chiou, Baid dominated the second, winning the first five games.
"Emily is very consistent, a smart player. It was definitely a hard match but I'm glad I pulled through," Baid said. "She obviously played pretty well and we had close matches. This time I felt my nerves kicked in, I was pushing the ball, but the second set I started hitting it more."
Neuqua Valley, which last week won the DuPage Valley Conference championship, on Saturday added its sixth team sectional title in seven years. The Wildcats had 27 points to runner-up Batavia and Naperville North's 18.
There was no shortage of drama in the doubles final, the last match to finish. Undefeated and top-seeded Tiffany Zhang and Irene Zhang of Naperville North outlasted DVC rivals Sofia Ramos and Abigail Allen of Neuqua 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) to win their second straight sectional championship.
The Zhangs, both seniors but not related, made top eight at state last year after alternating qualifying for state doubles as freshmen and sophomores with the same doubles partner.
The two girls looked cool as cucumbers throughout Saturday's match, but admitted they felt the pressure build.
"I felt like it wasn't that bad at first but as we got deeper and deeper into the match it was more and more stressful," Tiffany Zhang said. "It's pretty cool to do this again."
The Naperville North pair beat their counterparts from Neuqua Valley for the third time this season, all three close matches, the last two three-setters. They overcame the raw power and emotion Ramos and Allen bring to the court.
"They're powerful, and Sofia has a big presence on the court," Irene Zhang said. "She's very intimidating."
Batavia, which enjoyed a banner season, had a tough final day in settling for fourth in singles and doubles.
At singles Klein (18-9) was beaten by Oswego East senior Makayla Buenafe 7-5, 6-3 in the third-place match. In the doubles third-place match, Neuqua Valley's Hannah Kestenberg and Emiley Piao beat Batavia juniors Leah Puttin and Bella Lins (22-4) 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6).
"It kind of stinks," Lins said. "The same thing happened in conference, too. We lost in a third-set tiebreaker. I guess it's something we need to work on, is getting up in tiebreakers."
Still, the Bulldogs had much to be proud of.
Batavia closed out the regular season with a 21-0 dual meet record and repeated as DuKane Conference champions.
"It was pretty good because a lot of people didn't think we'd be as good because we lost a lot of really good seniors," said Puttin, who qualified for state as a sophomore with then-senior Maddie Durso. "The new people that came in really stepped up. We had great team chemistry throughout the year."