Girls tennis: Stevenson's Wang savors state title win over Lake Forest's Rabjohns
Lake Forest junior Autumn Rabjohns tried to overpower Stevenson sophomore Sarah Wang.
Tried to frustrate Wang with ankle-biting slice shots. Tried to dink Wang. Tried to lob Wang. Tried to out-topspin Wang. Tried ... everything. To no avail.
Top-seeded Wang had an answer for every ploy in second-seeded Rabjohns' big bin of tricks during the Class 2A singles final at Saturday's girls tennis state tournament at Buffalo Grove.
Wang -- survivor of a pair of taut 3-setters on the first two days at state -- defeated Rabjohns 6-3, 6-2, a final score that screams "rout" on paper. In real time, on a gorgeous, sunny, pleasantly cool day? The entertaining show resembled a late-round 18-and-under USTA national match, featuring lengthy, high-level rallies, brilliant shotmaking, breathless court coverage, creative tactics, loud winners, dainty drop shots, ... everything.
"Honestly, I don't know how I won that match, but I'm glad that I did," said a smiling Wang, the fourth Patriot in program history to capture a state singles title, following three-time champion Sue Jaeger (1976-78), Andrea Jaeger (1979) and Denise Muresan (2005).
Saturday's match was the fourth this fall between the North Suburban Conference supernovas in sneakers, with Wang winning 3 of them.
"Great match," first-year Patriots coach Jose Morales said. "Autumn played outstanding tennis and has so many shots -- all the shots. But Sarah, she doesn't miss. She fought and played incredibly well, after having to take down tough opponents in long matches (Friday) and Thursday.
"Sarah," the coach added, "was the better player today."
Wang (35-1), a first-year prep netter, completed her 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 semifinal defeat of Wiskowski Saturday morning (after trailing 6-3, 5-5 late Friday afternoon) and helped Stevenson tie New Trier and Lake Forest for runner-up honors in the team standings; each team tallied 26 points, behind state champion Hinsdale Central's 34.
Stevenson would have had to settle for fourth place (and no trophy) had the tournament's last match -- Stevenson juniors Ainika Hou/Sonia Mehta vs. New Trier's Lucy Parrilli/Keri Rothenberg, in the contest for fifth place in doubles -- turned out differently.
The Patriots, seeded 5-8, edged the 3-4-seeded Trevians 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, avenging an Oct. 5 loss and netting an oh-so-crucial 1 point for the team. The victory capped Hou/Mehta's remarkable 8-0 run in the back draw, following the duo's 7-5, 2-6, 10-5 (super tiebreaker) first-round loss and puffed their season record to 32-6.
"Our motto after the loss was, 'One point at a time,' " Mehta said. "We also made sure we didn't think about the past. Our coach told our entire team, 'Be a goldfish. A goldfish is the happiest creature in the world because a goldfish has a 10-second memory.' We never lost our focus, and Ainika carried me."
"No," Hou interjected. "We carried each other."
Stevenson's second doubles state entrant, senior Thea Surya/junior Kate Herlihy, contributed 4 team points by winning 3 of 5 matches.
The state trophy was the program's sixth in 10 years and second top-three state finish since Stevenson tied Whitney Young for first place under former Patriots coach Tom Stanhope in 2017.
'Maggs' to riches:
Libertyville junior Maggie Forkner had quite a memorable three-day state tournament, filled with one low and a plethora of highs. Seeded 9-16, the Wildcat lost a 6-1, 6-4 first-round match to New Trier's Julia Ross and then won 7 straight elimination tests -- including 5 on Friday -- before falling 6-3, 6-2 to Ross' teammate, Madison Liu, in the Class 2A match for fifth place Saturday at Buffalo Grove.
Among her triumphs in the consolation rounds: a 6-2, 6-0 defeat of ... Ross, Julia Ross. Forkner (26-8) also eliminated a pair of 5-8 seeds.
Not once did her racket suffer a broken string.
"I did have to re-grip my racket," said Forkner, who became the first female netter from Libertyville to claim a singles state medal since Kristin Bachochin collected bronze in 1991.
"I wanted to win (the rematch with Ross), badly. I had a better attitude in my matches after the loss. And I learned I have more energy and grit than I thought I had."
Forkner's 7-2 record at state generated 7 team points. Libertyville, fittingly, finished in seventh place (15 points). Wildcats freshman Lena Dogadalski went 3-2 (5 team points) in singles, and senior Alexandra Berns/sophomore Hadley Warren contributed 3 points (1 front-draw win, 1 back-draw win) in doubles.
"Maggie did a great job regrouping," Libertyville coach Dan Kiernan said, noting Forkner's fourth match Friday was against Ross. "She served better after the loss, played steady tennis and stayed focused."
A1 Ram in 1A:
Grayslake Central senior Karishma Bhalla, a 5-8 seed, finished in sixth place Saturday at the Class 1A tournament. The Ram -- a seventh-eighth-place finisher in singles at the 2019 state meet -- fell 6-1, 6-3 to Richmond-Burton's Savannah Webb in the match for fifth place.
The reigning Northern Lake County Conference No. 1 singles champ, as well as this month's Antioch sectional singles champion, Bhalla went 24-2 in 2021 and became only the second Ram to medal at state in program history (Lynne Poggensee-Wei took fourth in singles in 2006).
"All season I aimed to make it here, at state, on day three," she said. "I'm grateful for a lot of things -- for being a part of my team and for receiving support from my parents (Ashwin and Dee), my coaches (including Chuck Lawson) and my teammates."