PLAINFIELD – Coach Caitlin Dodge and her Plainfield North tennis team were thrilled to have six finalists and four division champions in Saturday’s Southwest Prairie Conference meet, hosted by Plainfield Central and held at Plainfield East.
However, despite dropping a 6-4, 6-4 decision to Joliet Township junior Eileen Carney for the first singles title, North junior Gabby Ochalik may benefit from the experience as much as anyone.
North led in tournament points, but SPC titles are determined by a combination of points from dual meets and in the tournament. Oswego East, the leader coming in, won with 75 to North’s 72.
Minooka finished third with 54 and likely would have been closer to the top if not for losing its first doubles (juniors Grace Thelo and Gabby Hajduk) and first singles (junior Brittani Collins) to forfeits in the semifinals. Hajduk is of concern for next weekend’s Plainfield South Sectional because of an Achilles injury.
The rest of the team standings were Oswego 32, Plainfield East 30, Joliet 27, Plainfield South 26, Plainfield Central 21 and Romeoville 20.
In the featured attraction, the first singles final, Ochalik led the first set, 3-0, and the second, 4-1. However, Carney, whom Ochalik described as “very cool, like a cucumber,” won six of the last seven games in the first set and the last five in second.
“I have to give her credit,” said Ochalik, who lost to Carney in three sets during the season and will be favored to meet her again in the sectional final. “She is mentally strong. I always expect a challenging match with her.”
There may have been a lesson in there.
“It’s time for me to grow up and be more confident in myself so I can play just as well as her,” Ochalik decided.
Carney, who is 19-0 overall, said she “took it one point at a time” when she fell behind, 4-1, in the second set.
“I was just counting down the points – seven more to get back to 3-4 and be back in it, six more, five more,” she said. “I was trying to remain calm and take deep breaths.
“I am happy with how I am playing right now, but Gabby reminded me that I have to play better. The last time we played, it went three sets and neither of us was playing that well. Today she brought he ‘A’ game, so I had to bring mine. I have never seen her play that well like she was today.”
Joliet coach Kit Gillman said strategic moves on Carney’s part helped sway each set in her favor.
“She did it all,” he said. “We changed strategy both times when we got behind. Gabby did not adjust to the change right away. Then she got used to it and got ahead in the second set, and we had to change again.
“Both girls have good strokes, that’s obvious. It becomes a matter of what strategy will work.”
In other singles finals, Plainfield North’s Shreya Sharma beat Plainfield South’s Jessica Vladimiro, 6-3, 6-2, at second singles; and North’s Stephanie Kucera topped Minooka’s Kacie Moore, 7-5, 6-0, at third singles.
North’s Meg Chadick-Sarah Trusk beat Oswego East’s Eden Short-Mary Weber, 6-3, 6-1, for the first doubles title.
“It was intense, but we played real well,” Chadick said. “We’re ready for the sectional.”
North’s Ally Radwan and Caroline Macias were second at second doubles, falling to East’s Annie Carmody-Keertana Kota, 7-5, 6-2. The Wolves’ third doubles of Angel Javier-Ravina Shah scored a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) win over Minooka’s Madison Wittkowfski-Ireland Binkowski. North’s Allie Zabek-Sheri Aclibon won fourth doubles over East’s Payton Dude-Mackenzie Knudson, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
“Our girls were amazing in the tournament,” Dodge said. “They stepped it up. It was a very successful day. The girls even surpassed their seeds going into the tournament.”