May 28, 2024
Illinois High School Sports

Girls tennis: Benet runner-up, Glenbard West’s Mira Kernagis third at IHSA State Finals

Lanton wins Elgin Academy’s first singles state championship

Glenbard WestÕs Mira Kernagis returns a volley in the 2A Singles 3rd Place Match at the IHSA State Tennis Finals Saturday October 21, 2023 in Buffalo Grove.

BUFFALO GROVE – Elgin Academy junior Addison Lanton applied a temporary “EA” tattoo to the right side of her face early the morning of Oct. 21.

She then achieved something at the Class 1A girls tennis state meet that will never fade away – program history.

The top-seeded Lanton defeated Chicago University High junior and second-seeded Paola Almeda 6-3, 6-1 in the singles final at Buffalo Grove to become the first Hilltopper to net a state singles championship a year after becoming half of the program’s first doubles team – with her older sister, Noelle – to win a state doubles title.

“After match point, I started to cry tears of happiness,” said Lanton, who used an effective serve and smooth, penetrating groundstrokes to solve Almeda and hike her record to 26-0. “I usually have to get myself up during matches. Not today. Our school’s fans gave me a lot of support. I have to thank them.”

Lanton won six matches at the three-day tournament, four of them via 6-0, 6-0 routs. But she led only 3-2 and 4-3 in the first set against a resolute Almeda.

“Addison’s strong mentality lifted her in the final, just like it always does,” Elgin Academy coach Sterling Perez said. “Her biggest thing is staying calm, staying locked in.”

Stevenson and Benet finished runner-up in 2A and 1A, respectively. Stevenson’s Patriots tallied 20 points to champion New Trier’s 35. Benet (31 points) was edged by champion Chicago University High (32 points).

Stevenson senior and Penn-bound Sarah Wang – a two-time 2A champ in singles – and junior Abby Ma paced the Pats with a fifth-place showing in doubles. They downed New Trier’s Coco Zabel and Julia Ludwig 6-1, 6-4 in their final match. Stevenson’s Ana Sukovic and Sophia Shlyakhta finished seventh-eighth in doubles. Sophomore Emma Blass contributed three wins in singles.

Stevenson collected its eighth top-three plaque in 10 years.

“You have to have resilience at a three-day meet like this and all of our girls had it,” Patriots coach Izzy Balase said. “The entire field had to deal with rain and delays. Some suffered injuries. Wins and losses don’t define you. It’s how to respond to a loss that does. Our girls were tough all weekend. They hung in there, physically and emotionally.”

Benet juniors Shane Delaney and Clare Lopatka did exactly what their seed – No. 1 – had projected. The Redwings’ top duo triumphed over Timothy Christian’s Crystina Lee and Jane Carter 6-3, 6-1 in the 1A doubles final to cap a stellar 34-1 season.

Their only regular-season loss came at the rackets of Naperville North juniors Brooke Coffman and Gabby Lee, a Class 2A pair that took third at state with a riveting 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 defeat of Normal’s Anna Mayes and Kruthi Sudhir.

“Our team had a great three days,” said Benet coach Michael Hand, who guided the Redwings to the 1A title in 2016. “There wasn’t really a team theme other than what I want them to do each time they compete – go out there and play your best.

“Clare and Shane complement each other quite well. Clare is consistent and never gets bothered in matches and Shane is powerful and vocal.”

Benet juniors Natalie Grover and Katie Jendra won six of seven matches to place fifth in doubles. Meredith Converse, another junior, reached a state quarterfinal as a 9-16 seed and finished seventh-eighth. The Redwings’ fourth state entrant, freshman Lily Lopatka, won a singles match Oct. 19.

Naperville North’s Coffman and Lee almost lost the 2A third-place doubles match three times. Down 5-2 in the third set, the pair of Huskies saved three match points en route to a tension-laden comeback victory. Each smashed an overhead winner in the game that put them up 6-5.

“Heart ... it came down to heart,” Coffman said. “On one of the match points we saved, Gabby, who had double-faulted on the previous point, had to hit second serve. That was such a big moment and she came through for us.”

“We put pressure on them late in the third set,” Lee said. “What we kept saying was, ‘Never back down.’ "

Timothy Christian’s Carter and Lee – Trojans singles players for most of the season – rose to the challenge of playing doubles, first at the conference meet and then during the state series. Timothy Christian coach Keith Mills was watching TV at home one night when the thought of pairing Carter and Lee (sixth at state in singles last fall) in doubles interrupted his viewing.

“It was a three-way conversation,” Mills said. “We all sat and talked the next day. Crystina is a big hitter and Jane likes to chip and volley. They’re opposites. Having opposites in doubles is a good thing.”

And a historic thing. A Timothy Christian duo had never placed higher than third at state until Oct. 21.

Glenbard West senior and William & Mary-bound Mira Kernagis also struck her way to a program-best feat Oct. 21, finishing third in the 2A singles draw with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 defeat of Deerfield junior Abigail Lee. Barb Hawkinson, fifth at state in 1972, had held the distinction of Glenbard West’s best state singles finisher for 51 years.

Kernagis appeared to be in complete control when she went up 4-1 in the second set, thanks to her fluid strokes and sound point construction. But the Warrior on the other side of the net won five straight games to force a third set.

“Abigail played great tennis in the second set,” Glenbard West coach Kevin Graham said. “Mira played tight tennis, but she turned it on in the third after playing a little looser and deciding to play her game.

“We’re going to miss Mira.”