Boys tennis: Hinsdale Central netters outshine pristine weather at Deerfield invite

By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 5/7/2022 8:09 PM

Deerfield senior doubles player Aaron Steinberg greeted a long-lost buddy Saturday afternoon.

"I looked up and said, 'Hello, ol' friend,'" the Warrior said at the eight-team Deerfield boys tennis invite.


The pal was the sun, which hadn't made an appearance in close to forever during this gray-laden spring.

"It feels like Florida today," said a half-stunned, half-elated Alex Kotarski, a Hinsdale Central sophomore doubles player.

"A sunny day, finally," Stevenson first-year coach and 2011 Schaumburg graduate Isriz Balase said.

But the netters had their rackets full as they peered at something smaller and considerably cooler during points. And something that also happened to be yellow: a tennis ball.

Well-struck shots rivaled the beauty of the ideal weather conditions, and Hinsdale Central's Red Devils -- prohibitive favorites to win another state title later this month -- amassed the most winners en route to capturing the three-flight tourney with 76 points.

A split squad of New Trier Trevians tallied 46 points, ahead of third-place finishers Stevenson and Highland Park (35 points apiece). Deerfield took fifth (27), followed by Lake Forest (24), Glenbrook South (10) and Libertyville (9).

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Each team's top two singles players battled in one bracket. Nos. 1 and 2 doubles teams and Nos. 3 and 4 doubles teams competed in separate draws.

Kotarski and junior James Theriault -- an unseeded Nos. 1-2 doubles pair -- made it all the way to the final, upsetting New Trier and Stevenson entrants along the way. Awaiting them: their top-seeded Hinsdale Central mates, Luca Lipari/Jai Vallurupalli. But Red Devils assistant coach Bill Alex, filling in for head coach John Naisbitt, didn't allow the quartet to take the court.

Alex also kept supremely talented Hinsdale Central seniors Noah Hernandez and Mujtaba Ali-Khan from facing each other in the Nos. 1-2 singles championship match.

"We apologize for not playing in finals," said Alex, half of Hinsdale Central's state doubles champion (with Joe Leininger) in 1979. "It's about protection; the last thing you want to see is one of our guys rolling an ankle in a match that doesn't really matter."


Focus mattered when Kotarski/Theriault took on Stevenson's Gabe Visotsky/Gautham Kappaganthula in a Nos. 1-2 double semifinal. The second-seeded Patriots fell behind 3-0 but got as close as 5-6 before falling 7-5, 6-1.

"We had opportunities in both sets," said Balase, who was a two-time No. 1 singles runner-up at the Mid-Suburban League meet as a Saxon. "But Hinsdale Central's team had an extra bit of focus on the big points. Our guys got put in uncomfortable situations. That didn't bother me, because you can grow from those.

"Every team here is battle-tested," the coach added. "I told our players, 'We can hang with any team in the state.'"

Visotsky/Kappaganthula lost 6-1, 6-3 to New Trier's Matthew Plunkett/Jack Rivkin in their match for third place.

Deerfield's Steinberg and his Nos. 1-2 doubles partner, sophomore Spencer Kastin, rebounded nicely after a first-round loss to Lake Forest's Tony Bosnjak/Sahil Conjeevaram Friday at an indoor club. They sparkled under Steinberg's ol' friend on Saturday, winning 3 straight matches to place fifth/sixth.

In their final match the Warriors duo split sets with Lake Forest's Kaden Wilhelm/Lance Heine and trailed 3-0 in the super-tiebreaker. They then relied on controlled aggression, fearlessness near the net and rapid hands to win 10 of the next 12 points and complete a 3-6, 6-3 (10-5) victory.

"First set, I didn't move my feet," Steinberg said. "And I waited for the ball to come to me. You can't do those things in doubles."

Added Kastin: "We started to attack in the second set and never let up from there."

Other noteworthy results Saturday: New Trier's TJ Dale/Oliver Coppieters (first place, Nos. 3-4 doubles); HC's Pavel Peev/Lucas Koranda (second place, Nos. 3-4 doubles); HP's Evan Glebov and Blake Gold (third-place tie, Nos. 1-2 singles); Stevenson's Sammy Cohan/Alex Jang (third place, Nos. 3-4 doubles); and Stevenson's Rithvik Mandumula/Owen Hayden (fourth place, Nos. 3-4 doubles).

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