Girls tennis: Stevenson continues on a bright path
Late in Wednesday afternoon's girls tennis dual between Glenbrook South and host Stevenson, South coach Meg Ahlgrim had an unusual question for her No. 1 doubles team.
"Girls, can you see the ball?" shouted Ahlgrim, a daughter of former Mundelein football coach John Ahlgrim.
"No," chimed the choir of two, Alexandra Popa/Sophia Denizov, who trailed Stevenson juniors Sonia Mehta/Ainika Hou 3-6, 5-4 at the time.
With that resounding reply, darkness -- the third combatant at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex -- claimed its lone "victory." All human parties had agreed to halt play.
But Stevenson's future (the rest of this month, specifically) remained blindingly bright after the Patriots netted a 5-1 victory on an overcast, slightly chilly day and improved to a sunny 18-1 under first-year coach Jose Morales.
Stevenson's singles players raced to quick triumphs, dropping a combined 2 games in 6 sets in the nonconference dual. Patriots sophomore Sarah Wang defeated Titans senior Jenna Horne 6-0, 6-1 at No. 1; Stevenson freshman Abby Ma topped Glenbrook South senior Julia Park 6-1, 6-0 at No. 2; and Sophia Shlyakhta, another rookie, skipped to a 6-0, 6-0 rout on the No. 3 singles court.
Ma was coming off a 5-7, 7-5 (10-6 super tiebreaker) road win over a New Trier Trevian in a 4-3 team loss the previous day.
"Not a very good start for me," Ma said of her match Wednesday afternoon. "I found my focus later, during changeovers."
Ma's forehand approach shots put Park on the defensive and often set up decisive winners.
Wang's footwork behind the baseline, meanwhile, was almost as impressive as her sterling anticipation and shotmaking abilities.
The Patriots' No. 2 duo, senior Thea Surya/junior Kate Herlihy, downed Titans Mari Buckingham/Saanya Shah 6-2, 7-5 in a highly competitive, entertaining match that barely beat the darkness. Buckingham's father, Paul, was a two-time state runner-up in doubles (1985-86) at Glenbrook South.
"So solid," Morales said of Surya/Herlihy. "Their spirit on the court -- it's super. You can tell they're having fun on every point."
Two courts over, Mehta/Hou won 3 consecutive points on Mehta's serve to secure a game late in their second set at No. 1 doubles. All 3 points ended identically, with Mehta's high-kicking serves setting up easy put-away volleys for Hou, who's blessed with tremendous reflexes and has the speed and will to believe any ball is reachable.
The No. 4 doubles team of seniors Sophia Lagen/Sabrina Xue earned Stevenson's fifth win Wednesday with a 6-4, 6-2 decision. Glenbrook South's No. 3 tandem, Jill Demling/Shannon Dudy, returned to Glenview as 6-3, 6-1 victors.
Morales, midway through the dual, looked back at his club's loss to New Trier, during which Wang lost her first set of the fall but remained undefeated.
"Do I want to play New Trier again?" he said. "I sure do; we all do. We wanted to play that team again as soon as the dual ended.
"What I liked most about our girls who lost was how hard they fought until the last point."
Next up for the Patriots, who captured 3 invite championships this season, is Friday's North Suburban Conference meet. Stevenson nearly won each of its NSC duals via 7-0 knockout; it settled for a 6-1 defeat of perennial power Lake Forest.