One day after thrilling the Naperville Central faithful with an exciting three-set semifinal comeback, Blake Roegner and Daanyal Saeed produced yet another to stun top-seed New Trier and lift the Class 2A state doubles championship trophy.
The dynamic Redhawks duo dropped the first set against Colin Fox and John Rogers (16-1) only to come roaring back to win the next two sets to claim the first state boys tennis title in program history. They finished 24-2.
“It feels great right now, but honestly, I don’t think I’ll know how it feels until it hits me later on,” said Saeed after he and Roegner were mobbed by an appreciative and raucous red-clad Redhawks crowd which provided the incentive down the stretch when the duo took control of the final at host Hersey High School.
“The guys fought hard all day yesterday and again against a team that they lost to in the final at the Pitchford last month, (but) today they hit some big shots when they needed and never let up on the pedal right up until the end,” said a proud Chris Harrison, Central’s head coach.
Roegner-Saeed were close to finishing off the Trevians when it became 5-2 in the third set – but would soon find themselves level at 5-5.
Rogers and Saeed would trade two point-blank returns at the net with Saeed striking the game-winner to make it 6-5.
With Saeed serving for the match, the junior Roegner split Fox and Rogers with an unstoppable return from in close to start the celebration.
“Our hope was always to get back into the state final, and, this time win it, so right now it feels just amazing to do so,” said Roegner, who along with Saeed, lost the 2019 final to Joseph Daw and Noah Hernandez in straight sets.
For Hersey’s brilliant senior Max Sheldon, he would not enjoy the same success as the Redhawks in his second attempt at a state singles title.
The Michigan State bound Sheldon (29-2) brought a capacity crowd to its feet with a magnificent first set performance only to find New Trier senior Max Bengtsson (17-0) get his game back in order to win the next two sets and defeat Sheldon, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. That also helped his club clinch the 2A state title over Hinsdale Central and third-place Stevenson.
Sheldon’s deep game and ability to win the 10-, 12- and 14-ball rallies kept Bengtsson on his heels as he built a 5-0 advantage only to see his Northwestern-bound opponent win the last three games to end the first set.
“I wasn’t able to do anything against Max. (He) had such a great start, but when I decided to just try to grind it out and make him work hard I knew my fitness could ultimately help be the difference in this match,” said Bengtsson, who claimed the first Trevians singles title since 2010 when Robert Stineman won his second straight before going on to star at Stanford.
Not even the intense heat and humidity for a third consecutive day could stop a relentless attack from Sheldon, who appeared poised to give the Huskies their first singles title since Brad Rosenbaum in 1988.
“When Max won those last three games of the first set, I could sense the momentum beginning to go his way. Then after that he hit the shots he needed to, and I just wasn’t able to do the same,” said Sheldon, who spent about 10 minutes at center court with his head coach Andy Walton before being greeted by a horde of well wishers who mobbed the three-year star.
“It was a fitting final by the two best singles players in the state who each hit so many great shots for nearly 2 1/2 hours,” said Walton, who fought back the tears. “Max helped make Hersey tennis relevant and to make it really something all of us can be proud of, and now build something from. It’s been a great ride since he came here as a freshman and a real privilege to get to know and coach.”
The Huskies, along with league rival Barrington and FVC champion Jacobs, finished fourth overall with 22 points.
The Broncos’ doubles team of Ethan Paik-Ammar Wazir (31-5) outlasted Glenbard West (16-3) in an intense contest for fifth place to give Barrington its 19th state medal and first since 2002 when K.R. Kaiser-Adam Morgan finished second overall.
Jacobs tennis had a strong showing thanks in part to a singles lineup led by junior Thomas Nelson (40-8) and freshmen Kyle McNally (49-3), who closed out a wonderful year at fifth and sixth playing well above their 9-16 seeds
The Nelson-McNally duo, along with Crystal Lake South’s Jackson Schuetzle (33-5), showed why the FVC is on the rise. Jacobs earned its first state medals ever, and Schuetzle gave the Gators their first since 2003 after his third-place finish at the 1A tournament.
“I felt like I played well all throughout the three days, especially in quarterfinal yesterday after I dropped the first set [vs. Jacob Williams, Wheaton Academy] and came back to win and advance into the semifinal,” said the affable Crystal Lake South junior, who lost to the eventual 1A state champ Max Braun [Champaign Centennial], 6-4, 6-0.
The aforementioned Williams and teammate Aidan Hilson finished just outside the medal stand. But nonetheless, the Warriors duo did well for themselves by going eight matches between them.
Burlington Central junior Luke Welker came back from a disappointing defeat in the quarterfinals to win his next three to earn a fifth place state medal.
Noah Bobofchak-Andrew Donovan from Benet Academy garnered the 11th state medal in program history after its third-place finish at doubles.
It was a historic day for Vernon Hills tennis, which despite finishing only one point from a top-three finish in the team race, still managed to claim its best finish at the state tournament at fourth place, while watching the doubles team of Eric Rodriguez and Andrew Tikhonov (22-9) play into the third day.
“It feels great to be the first team at Vernon Hills to play on the third day of the tournament and to also be a part of the best finish ever for our tennis program,” said Rodriguez, who later would find out he was the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Tom Pitchford Sportsmanship Award.
“It’s a great honor, and one that I am very proud of, not only for myself but for my teammates and our coaching staff,” said Rodriguez, who will attend Ohio State University next fall.
When the final match was completed it marked the 20th and final boys state tennis tournament run by tournament director Matt Norris, who will step down after being responsible for so many tournaments through the years.
“Matt has and did make an indelible impact on IHSA tennis all throughout his time as our tournament director, and each year that I work with him I am humbled by his hard work, energy and selfless service he has put into the tournament to insure it was a success during his 20 years,” said IHSA director of boys tennis Susie Knoblach.