Depleted New Trier, Deerfield earn share of invite title
Deerfield's Casati, GBN are champions at No. 1 singles, doubles
September 10, 2011 05:40 PM
It might be a bit of a stretch to call Saturday’s Deerfield Invitational a sneak preview of the Illinois High School Association state finals that will take place in about six weeks.
After all, no team entered in Saturday’s event was at full strength due to conflicts with ACT testing, and the format – consisting of four doubles brackets and four singles brackets – isn’t the same as postseason play, either.
Highland Park's Nicole Berkman hits a return during a No. 2 doubles match Saturday at the Deerfield Invitational. (Photo by Jon Durr www.DurrPhotos.com)
But high school tennis fans will be in for quite a bit of drama on that final weekend if there’s a repeat of the team race like the one that went down to the wire at Deerfield and Highland Park.
An epic three-set battle for the singles title at the No. 2 position was won by Lake Forest’s Megan Morris over New Trier’s Alana Peters 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. Morris’ come-from-behind triumph enabled the defending state champions to finish in a three-way tie with New Trier and Deerfield, all with 32 points.
New Trier would have won the title outright if Peters had prevailed in the last match of a grueling day. But no one came away a loser in a field that also included Highland Park (18 points), Oak Park-River Forest (13.5), Glenbrook North (10.5), Loyola Academy (10), and Prospect (0).
“There was a lot of good tennis here today, and it’s funny that it came down to the last match to create a co-champion," Deerfield coach Rich Koukol said. “Today was a chance to see what everyone else has. But when we play that quad at Lake Forest, against Lake Forest, New Trier and Hinsdale Central in October, that one will give you an even better look with everyone loaded up in their lineups.”
“It’s always good to be a co-champion, and to me, the glass is always half full and never half empty. My mother taught me that,” New Trier coach Allison Rose said. “The teams in the state this year really are that close. Our girls earned that co-championship today. Absolutely everyone competed well even though we were missing seven girls. Three of our doubles teams were fairly new combinations today, but they played great.”
For Peters, a victory not only would have clinched the team crown but also would also have represented a big step toward cracking the New Trier postseason lineup. She’s trying to earn a spot in the top six -- a position she had as both a freshman and a sophomore -- before being left on the sidelines last year.
She didn’t need a win, however, to impress Rose.
New Trier's Margaret Schaff reaches for a shot during Saturday's Deerfield Invitational. Schaff and Kirstie Woodbury finished third at No. 2 doubles. (Photo by Jon Durr www.DurrPhotos.com)
“Alana had a tough week for us this week, but she had a great week,” praised Rose, noting a three-set win for the senior standout against Glenbrook North as darkness fell on Thursday in an 8-2 Trevian triumph. “It all comes down to who the fighters are, who will fight their way into that postseason lineup. If they’re in that final six for us, they've definitely earned it.
“This past summer, Alana worked really hard on her strength and her conditioning, and it definitely showed today. Her endurance and her fitness are the areas where she’s improved the most.”
Peters needed every ounce of energy she could muster. After dispatching Loyola Academy’s Hannah Nichols (6-1, 6-0), she battled past Highland Park’s Jacqueline Baum 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in three tough sets.
In the finale, Morris was one point away from losing the match before rallying in the third set.
“She just hit some insane shots,” Peters said. “I had her on the ropes in that third set and she came up with some really good shots. I think she hit four winners in a row against me. She just played out of her mind. I was up 40-love when she hit a shot deep in the alley that I thought was out, and that’s how I called it. But some of the fans started booing me and even though I was pretty sure it was out, I over-ruled myself. She went out after that and hit my forehand inside out, and she just killed me.
“That was a good win for me in the semifinals, though. My backhand slice was working well and I think as she got tired against me, she (Baum, a state qualifier last year) had trouble getting that shot back over the net. She likes to hit hard all the time and she blew me out the last time we played back in May. I was really focused today, and I was able to mix up the pace. That’s what threw her off.”
Peters isn’t getting too far ahead of herself when it comes to a possible berth at the state tournament.
“It’s way too early to tell anything about the lineup,” she said. “We’ve lost some players and some injuries are throwing everything off right now. Some people are talking about me possibly playing doubles, and some of the girls playing doubles want to play singles. It’s not predictable -- but in a good way.”
New Trier’s strength Saturday was in the singles brackets, as underclassmen Taylor Tamblyn and Audrey Mang won titles at the No. 3 and No. 4 slots, respectively.
In the finals, Tamblyn, a freshman, whipped Lake Forest’s Lucy Lincoln 6-1, 6-2, and Mang outlasted Deerfield’s Sarah Rudo 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
At the No. 1 spot, Carol Finke came off the sick list to claim third. She bounced back from a semifinal loss to Lake Forest’s Elizabeth Zordani (6-3, 2-6, 6-2) to trip Lauren Schechtman of Highland Park 6-4, 6-2, for third place.
New Trier’s only doubles title came at No. 4, where Laura Swenson and Brooke Bondurant topped Lake Forest 7-5, 6-3. The Trevians tacked on a third-place finish by Kirstie Woodbury and Margaret Schaff at No. 2.
The Warriors’ Alexis Casati remained unbeaten in singles and survived a tough field with three two-set wins, including a 6-3, 6-2 victory against Elizabeth Zordani of Lake Forest in the finals at No. 1. Deerfield also counted wins from the No. 2 doubles team of Erica Joseph and Raquel Boton and the No. 3 doubles team of Jessie Arenson and Katie Frankel.
Deerfield's Erica Joseph captured the No. 2 doubles title with Raquel Boton. (Photo by Jon Durr www.DurrPhotos.com)
Casati, already a two-time state qualifier, is beginning to carve out a reputation that may land her a top-four singles seed when the IHSA brackets are announced.
“Alexis keeps adding victories, and she keeps getting better and better,” Koukol said. “She doesn’t seem to have any fear out there when she's up against the top players in the state. She’s starting to separate herself from the pack (of contenders), and now everyone’s going to be gunning for her. And getting those big victories like the ones she got today really helps your confidence.”
“This is a tournament I was really looking forward to, and it really feels good to win it. I got off to a slow start, but I picked it up as the day went on,” Casati said. “I think Elizabeth (Zordani) was tired from her match in the semifinals, and we had a lot of long points in our match. The key was that I really, really played well on the important points. And playing no-ad definitely helped me stay focused. That was good for me.”
In doubles, Joseph and Baton needed three sets to secure their title over Lake Forest, while Arenson and Frankel scored a more conventional 7-6, 6-1 triumph against the Scouts.
The Warriors’ Emily Kolpas contributed a third-place finish at No. 3 singles, and Sarah Rudo was runner-up at No. 4 after losing to New Trier’s Mang 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
The Spartans only earned a spot in the field a couple of weeks ago when Barrington withdrew. The Fillies realized they’d have 11 players taking the ACT exam and were also supposed to host a junior varsity tournament Saturday, so GBN was added to the field.
Juniors Anna Zelechonok and Katrine Zhadovich were equal to the task in No. 1 doubles, snatching the title with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Lake Forest’s Victoria Orfanos and Kathryn Falk. Zelechonok’s laser-like backhands and Zhadovich’s precise serving proved an unbeatable combination.
GBN juniors Katrine Zhadovich (pictured) and Anna Zelechonok, the No. 1 doubles champions at the Deerfield Invite, are in their third season as partners. (Photo by Jon Durr www.DurrPhotos.com)
“This tournament was great competition for them, and I think they learned a lot today,” Glenbrook North coach Peg Holecek said. “Whenever you can play well and learn what you need to work on at the same time, that’s never a negative thing.
“They’ve been together for three years now and today was good for them because they've been playing from ahead a lot this year. They had a little bit of a mental lapse in that first set when they let the other team dictate the pace, instead of slowing down and making some adjustments. We always say these Saturday tournaments are really good practice days, and that’s what it was for us today.”
Zelechonok and Zhadovich dropped four straight games in the first set before rallying, and opened up a 4-2 edge in the second set before struggling to close out the win.
“It’s a good win for us, but we're just taking it one match at a time,” Zelechonok said. “I thought we communicated pretty well today. This year we’re a lot better at pumping each other up when the other one is down, and we’re better at helping each other stay focused, too.”
“We scored a lot of good net points today,” Zhadovich added. “Lake Forest is a great team, and we just tried to stay intense and focused.”
Most of the Giants’ success Saturday came in third-place matches. Earning thirds were Jaqueline Baum at No. 2 singles, Stephanie Bailen and Alyson Jacobs at No. 3 doubles, and Rachel Stoliar and Elizabeth Raab at No. 4 doubles.