Girls tennis: Absences pave way for others to step up in Northwest suburbs
It's a season of change for the Northwest suburbs' girls tennis scene.
Four prominent players, all state qualifiers including last year's Class 2A state doubles fourth-place tandem, did not come out for their respective teams, presumably to focus on their games and partake in USTA-type events. The Daily Herald received confirmation that three of the four players are indeed doing just that. The four players not playing on their high school teams this fall include the Fremd doubles team of sophomore Akari Matsuno and junior Kyra Emmanouilidis (fourth in the state in Class 2A), Schaumburg sophomore Emma Tatar (2-2 at state last year) and Hersey sophomore Natalie Osiecki (2-2 at state last year).
But enough with who is not here. Let's talk about who is here.
Mid-Suburban League co-champion Fremd, which took seventh in the state, has senior doubles state qualifier Kellie Ha back. Ha earned a top-24 state finish as a junior. Also back are senior Jane Bodensteiner (MSL No. 3 singles champion) and sophomore Sonal Matta (MSL No. 2 singles champion). Sophomore Gracie Ha also returns.
"We have an incredibly positive team this year with six new additions to the varsity roster," Fremd coach Scott Newmark said. "The girls are looking to prove they belong among the elite level of the MSL. As a group, they are really focused on helping each other improve. For us to be successful this year we will need to demonstrate consistency. I am going to challenge the entire squad to find a good rhythm within their game to be successful."
The Vikings shared the MSL crown with Barrington, which also won a sectional title. Senior Niyanthi Puliyala is back after qualifying for state in singles as a junior. She will play doubles this season. Also keep an eye on freshman No. 1 singles player Madeline Hills.
"We are excited to building up our program with a young and fresh team," Barrington coach Heather Graham said. "They are hardworking athletes who are not afraid to take risks on and off the court. Their dynamic playing abilities greatly match their positivity and enthusiasm. Their sportsmanship and leadership will take the courts by storm. It's all about the team. If everyone is bringing their best to every practice, match and tournament, we will have a successful season. We are looking forward to continued team and individual growth, while promoting a high standard of excellence."
Prospect won the MSL East and took third overall in the loop on its way to its highest sectional finish in 10 years. Coach Mike McColaugh boasts six players from last year's lineup, including sophomore Nikki Zakrzewski, who played No. 1 singles as a freshman. Senior Jolene Neuhalfen, a top-8 finisher in the state in badminton this spring, took third at MSL No. 2 singles, while sophomores Katherine Doyle and Natalie Katsaros were fourth at No. 2 doubles. The duo of junior Alex Giannopoulos and senior Kendall O'Malley was third at No. 4 doubles.
"Our goal is the same every year -- to challenge for an East Division title and finish as high as we can in a very underrated Mid-Suburban League," McColaugh said. "
Schaumburg welcomes back returning state qualifier Rhea Arora, along with seniors Bella Borla and Tanya Singh. "We have a deep lineup with leaders throughout the roster," coach Ari Kazan said.
Hersey, fifth in the MSL a year ago, returns senior Sydney Hemenway, who took second at No. 2 singles in the league and moves up to No. 1 this season, junior Natalia Smarzynski, who took third at No. 2 doubles last year and will team with senior Taylor Hall this fall in the top position. "The strengths of our team this season will be our enthusiasm and cohesiveness," said Huskies coach Sharon Meintzer.
Conant returns state qualifiers in junior Simren Mahajan (doubles) and sophomore Natalia Sadon (singles). "We have a lot of young talent and good team depth -- half our lineup will be sophomores or freshmen," coach David Koleno said. "Due to the leadership of Simren Mahajan and Chetana Cheruvu, our team unity and camaraderie has never been better."
Elk Grove sophomore Peyton Oda qualified for state in doubles last year with her graduated sister Laruen, and will shift to No. 1 singles this season.
Rolling Meadows is paced by sophomore No. 1 singles player Hanna Haber, who had 23 wins a year ago and was fifth in the MSL at No. 1 singles.
Wheeling welcomes back a trio of juniors in Martha Kubakh (No. 1 singles) and the No. 1 doubles team of Brittany Batkoff and Nubia Contreras.
St. Viator senior Tess McLaughlin is back after qualifying for state in doubles last year. Freshman Maia Nowicki moves into the No. 1 singles spot for the Lions, while sophomore Sarah Shultz (second at No. 3 doubles in 2018) will be on a high doubles court this fall along with senior Grace Zimmerman, coach Amy Ritchie noted. Maine West will be led by freshmen Domenica Boni and Raya Prichisky (No. 1 doubles) and Montana Walker (No. 1 singles). Maine South graduated nine seniors, but will rely on the senior leadership from three-year varsity doubles competitor and senior Regina Lee. Leyden has its top three singles players back in senior Julia Kostadinov (No. 1 singles, 2018 MVP), senior Noami Szalast (all-conference) and junior Emily Kelpacki.
Northwest suburbs girls tennis at a glance
Top teams: Fremd, Barrington, Prospect
Top returning players: Rhea Arora (Schaumburg, Sr.), Kellie Ha (Fremd, Sr.), Hanna Haber (Rolling Meadows, Soph.), Sydney Hemenway,(Hersey, Sr.), Julia Kostadinov (Leyden, Sr.), Martha Kubakh (Wheeling, Jr.), Regina Lee (Maine South, Sr.), Simren Mahajan (Conant, Jr.), Tess McLaughlin (St. Viator, Sr.), Peyton Oda (Elk Grove, Soph.), Niyanthi Puliyala (Barrington, Sr.), Natalie Sadon (Conant, Soph.), Nikki Zakrzewski (Prospect, Soph.)
Season outlook: Barrington and Fremd shared the Mid-Suburban League title last year and both have returning state-qualifying players back. Prospect was the winner of the East Division and logged a third-place finish overall. The Knights have six players back from last year's lineup, which would seem to bode well for the stretch run this fall. Conant has a pair for state qualifiers back in Mahajan and Sadon, both still underclassmen. Schaumburg coach Ari Kazan is excited about the depth his team has. St. Viator coach Amy Ritchie likes her roster and is hopeful the Lions can move up the ladder significantly in the East Suburban Catholic. Look for numerous freshmen in the area to make varsity impacts as well. And one final footnote: four returning state qualifiers are not on their high school teams this year, including the Fremd doubles team of sophomore Akari Matsuno and junior Kyra Emmanouilidis (fourth in the state in Class 2A), Schaumburg sophomore Emma Tatar (2-2 at state last year) and Hersey sophomore Natalie Osiecki (2-2 at state last year).