Boys tennis: Ray, Grayslake Central shine at NLCC meet
Grayslake Central sophomore Pralay Ray woke up Saturday thinking he'd play in the Northern Lake County Conference JV boys tennis tournament.
The Ram returned to his home as a champion -- a varsity champion.
Huh? True story.
Grayslake Central varsity coach Chuck Lawson had to fill a last-minute void at No. 3 singles before the start of action at Lakes. Ray, set to take the court at the JV meet at Grayslake North, got an order to board a bus bound for Lakes.
"Coach told me, 'Get ready. You're playing varsity today,' " Ray said.
All Ray did on a sun-plashed day was capture the No. 3 singles championship in his varsity debut and help the Rams win the NLCC tournament title.
"I thought I'd lose," admitted Ray, who defeated Antioch junior Kaden Berger 6-3, 6-1 in his flight's final. "I tried to move the ball around as best as I could and hit hard when I had the opportunity.
"Right now my feet," he added, "hurt so bad."
Grayslake Central's team feat felt good. Lawson's NLCC regular-season champs totaled 40 points at the seven-team gathering. Runner-up Grayslake North netted 38 points, followed by Grant (34), Lakes (31), Round Lake (20), Wauconda (17) and Antioch (16).
Grayslake Central's other flight champions Saturday were Nick Zador/Joaquin Feria (No. 1 doubles) and Ty Diaz/Marcus Hansis (No. 4 doubles). Rams sophomore Aashay Patel finished second at No. 2 singles.
Grayslake Central's entrants at the seven-flight tourney either received a first-round bye as a top seed or advanced to a semifinal.
Feria had a wedding on his mind throughout the No. 1 doubles final. Shortly after Zador/Feria edged Grayslake North's Jacob Marshall/Varun Gullapalli 7-6, 7-6, Feria sprinted to his family's car to attend another big event Saturday.
"Joaquin is fast and gets to everything on the court," said Zador, whose best weapon is a consistent, powerful serve. "Our final could not have been more evenly matched. We felt pressure in our semifinal, too. In both matches we talked and reminded each other to relax and breathe."
Grayslake North's top two singles players, in a word: breathless. Knights junior Christian Abban dropped only a combined 4 games in 2 matches, capping his day with a 6-2, 6-1 defeat of Round Lake freshman Seth Lampkin. Classmate Dylan Clausen was dominant, skipping to a 6-1, 6-0 semifinal win before downing Grayslake Central's Patel 6-0, 6-1 in the No. 2 final.
Clausen has lost only once all season.
"I've been working on my approach shots and volleys," said the math whiz, who won multiple points via down-the-line backhands and put-away volleys.
Abban, meanwhile, thwacked hard, high-kicking serves that sounded and looked like deliveries from Division-I college players. Other facets of his formidable game also allowed him to earn quick points.
"My game plan for each match today was the same as it always is -- hit the ball where they're not standing," said Abban, who, as a freshman, finished 7th-8th in singles at the Class 1A state meet in 2019. "My goal for next weekend's sectional is to keep my competitive spirit up. I'd also like to stay focused on every point."
The meet's other champions were Grant's Dylan Sheppard/Ayden Sheppard (No. 2 doubles) and Lakes' Jake Pursell/Logan Foote (No. 3 doubles). The Sheppards, seeded No. 3, beat their flight's second-seed pair 6-0, 6-2 in a semifinal.
The tourney's third-place finishers at the 24-court complex were Lakes' Gavin Murrie (No. 1 singles); Lakes' Ryan Kiddle (No. 2 singles); Grant's David Hernandez (No. 3 singles); Grant's Landon Klecka/Garren Lazarraga (No. 1 doubles); Grayslake Central's Xander Helvie/Nolan Blenniss (No. 2 doubles); GN's Joey Saum/Jake Nardomarino (No. 3 doubles); and Lakes' Kevin Cellucci/Drew Bowen (No. 4 doubles).
Most of the NLCC teams -- except for 2A schools Grant and Round Lake -- return to Lakes next weekend for a 1A sectional.