Boys tennis: Sweet sectional day for Grayslake North, Abban
Ava Abban, all of 14 months old, extended her tiny right hand from inside a stroller Saturday afternoon and waited for big brother and Grayslake North junior ace Christian Abban to tap it with his right hand.
The sweet moment -- Ava's very first high-five at a sporting event -- took place after the singles final at the Class 1A Lakes boys tennis sectional in steamy and breezy Lake Villa. Ava's hero had defeated classmate and fellow state qualifier Dylan Clausen 6-3, 7-6 (3), after strolling to a 6-0, 6-1 victory and a pair of 6-0, 6-0 wins to reach the final.
The Knights' entire team deserved a similar greeting from the tot, because they captured the nine-team sectional title with an emphatic 30-point total. Runner-up and reigning Northern Lake County Conference champion Grayslake Central finished with 16 points, followed by Woodstock (14), Wauconda (12) and Lakes (11).
The top four finishers in singles and doubles qualified for next week's state meet.
"Weird but fun," the first-seeded Abban (30-3) said of facing teammate and third-seeded Clausen (28-2) for the singles title. "We were just chilling out there in the first set. Second set, he got defensive and pushed shots.
"That got on my nerves."
But Abban, who finished 7th/8th in singles at the Class 1A state meet in 2019, regained traction by breaking Clausen's serve at love at 6-5 and using a highly effective mixture of slice and topspin shots to take control in the tiebreaker.
The teammates smiled at each other and exchanged friendly banter after some points and during changeovers.
"You saw their fun personalities throughout the match," Knights first-year coach Matt MacDonald said. "They have a good relationship. It makes for a good practice environment."
GN doubles partners Jacob Marshall/Varun Gullapalli, seeded second, also advanced to the state meet, downing top-seeded Nick Zador/Joaquin Feria of Grayslake Central 6-3, 6-1 in the match for third place after falling 6-4, 6-4 to fifth-seeded seniors Riley Ellegood/Brad Arnold of Woodstock in a semifinal.
Ellegood/Arnold edged fourth-seeded Dylan Brannick/Memphis Gallego of Wauconda 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3 in an interminable doubles final that featured four netters who played mostly singles in the regular season.
Tennis is the busy Brannick's fourth sport in 2020-21, following his golf, basketball and soccer seasons.
"We had more fun in the second set and didn't worry about the score at any point," Brannick said, hinting the tandem should have played with that mindset in the final set.
"I'm happy with their effort," Bulldogs coach Ben Volheim added. "I liked how they responded after trailing 2-0 in the second set."
Lakes junior Gavin Murrie, sporting a bucket hat in each of his matches, followed in his brother Jack's sneaker steps by finishing third in singles as the sectional's No. 2 seed to secure his first state berth. Jack Murrie, a 2020 Lakes graduate, qualified for state in doubles (with Aaron Oster) two seasons ago.
Gavin Murrie (18-6) beat Grayslake Central sophomore Aashay Patel 6-3, 6-4 in the match for third place. Patel, unseeded, had upset sixth-seeded Lucas Toussaint of Johnsburg 6-0, 6-4 in the second round Friday afternoon.
"Gavin," Lakes coach Bryan Plinske said, "doesn't get rattled in matches. Mental toughness is his biggest strength. He's also good at figuring things out mid-match and adjusting. In his Friday quarterfinal (a 6-0, 6-3 defeat of GC's Milan Patel), after falling behind 3-2 in the second set, he implemented a different strategy."
The 1A state meet begins Thursday and runs through Saturday at Hersey and many other sites.