Girls tennis: 'Weird' year wraps up with sectional tournaments
Earlier this season, Benet Academy girls tennis coach Michael Hand admitted that "it's kind of a weird year."
Playing an organized high school sport while dealing with a worldwide pandemic offers its share of obstacles and logistical issues.
This weekend, however, offers an opportunity for some normalcy -- it is sectional time.
Unfortunately, there is a catch -- this weekend also marks the end of the season due to the cancellation of the 2020 state tournament.
"We want our seniors to enjoy their final chance to play and compete as a team," said Hand, whose team (16-2) participates in the Class 1A St. Francis sectional this weekend.
Benet rolls into the tournament, led by senior singles standout Daniella Nenadovich (17-0).
"We are going into this no differently than other years," said Hand. "We want to finish Saturday holding the sectional plaque and having the girls playing well and exceeding expectations.
"We accomplished our first goal, to win conference. Next is to do our best at sectionals."
After completing a 20-0 regular season, Batavia takes aim at the competitive Class 2A West Aurora sectional that includes Neuqua Valley (11-0), Naperville North, Naperville Central, Metea Valley and the host Blackhawks.
"After the sectional deck was reshuffled, we ended up with a tough hand," said Bulldogs coach Brad Nelson, whose squad is paced by the doubles team of juniors Leah Puttin/Bella Lins (20-2) and senior singles player Alex Klein.
"Neuqua is always tough and Naperville North has a top eight in the state doubles team from last season (Irene Zhang/Tiffany Zhang)," added Nelson. "I like the way we are playing right now at the top of the lineup in both singles and doubles.
"Our goal is to qualify as many as we can and push Neuqua and the Napervilles for the team title."
Neuqua Valley counters with sophomore singles player Emily Chiou and conference doubles champions Emiley Piao/Hannah Kestenberg (12-0).
"Our sectional participants are strong players who have put themselves in a position where they can make a deep run in the tournament," said Wildcats coach William Rose. "It is my goal that every singles player and doubles team play on Saturday."
Another sectional title seemingly up for grabs is at Cary-Grove, where Fox Valley Conference rivals Jacobs (18-1), Huntley (17-3), and the host Trojans (19-7) figure to lock horns.
That means a healthy dose of Huntley's Ruhi Gulati (19-5) and Elaina Hibbeler (20-4); Jacobs' Chloe Siegfort (24-0) and Isha Desai (26-2); and Crystal Lake South's Lizzy Sudbrook in singles competition, and the doubles teams of Huntley's Michelle Barnvos/Kylie Phommasack (21-3), and Jacobs' Kaya Trumbo/Lara Santa-Ines.
"With the exception of Grant, we know what to expect this weekend because we have only played a conference schedule so we have seen some teams as many as five times this year," said Huntley coach Barry Wells.
"We had an incredible year, winning the FVC tournament and the regular-season title. We would love to cap our historic season off with a sectional title, but even if we don't, it has been a great year."
At St. Charles East, the host Saints will aim for their second straight sectional crown, anchored by senior singles standout Emaira Saini (100-plus career victories) and the doubles tandem of Caroline Donati/Smita Dhar (15-4).
"On paper, we're the ones to beat," said Saints coach Matt Bulman. "Emaira is coming off a huge win over Sage Hills (Glenbard North) and a close loss in the finals to Analisa Cruz (Lake Park). She's peaking at the perfect time.
"We will be pushed by St. Charles North, which has the best doubles team in the field (Tatum Settelmyer/Leia Papanicholas), and Wheaton Warrenville South, which has the second-best singles player (Emma Beres)."
At Glenbrook South, Prospect's doubles team of juniors Natalie Katsaros/Katherine Doyle (21-10), and junior singles player Nikki Zakrzewski draw competition from Glenbrook North's Rina Matsunaga and the host Titans' Elizabeth Hoo/Elle Stewart.
"Natalie and Katherine have been battle tested by our schedule and have high expectations," said Prospect coach Michael McColaugh. "Although there is no state tournament to follow, our girls are just as excited as ever to play in a sectional."
At Schaumburg, Glenbard West will contend with the likes of Lake Park senior singles conference champion Analisa Cruz (12-1), Glenbard North's Sage Hills (23-2) and Sophia Raval (19-6), and Elk Grove's Peyton Oda (13-5), among others.
"Our goal is to win the sectional," said Hilltoppers coach Kevin Graham. "We will have to play well but we think that is an achievable goal."
Fresh from its third-place conference finish, York aims for another solid showing at the Lyons sectional.
"It is basically our conference tournament, Part II, as seven of the nine teams are from the West Suburban Conference," said York coach Tres Heimann.
At Stevenson, the sectional field includes Libertyville, Warren, Grayslake North, Mundelein, and the host Patriots, while Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Fremd, Hersey, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, and Wheeling compete at Fremd.
In 1A action, senior Cassie Lee (18-1) leads Timothy Christian into its own sectional that includes IC Catholic Prep and Montini.