It’s only Year 1 of Brecken Peterson’s high school tennis career, and already the Sterling freshman is making a trip to state. He’s not just going as a state qualifier. He’s going as the Class 1A Geneseo Sectional champion.
That’s a feat not even Sterling’s last powerhouse singles player, Class of 2020 graduate Dillon Nitz, could match. Nitz took second at the 2017 Class 1A Princeton Sectional behind Alleman’s Joey Miller.
“Sectional, it was just very exciting,” Peterson said. “I was nervous going into it. I was just really trying to wrap it up and just finish. The crowd was involved and everything. It was very exciting.”
To get the sectional crown, Peterson had to beat Dixon’s Lucas Healy in the final. The two met in May at the Emma Hubbs Courts in a dual, with Healy coming out on top 7-6 (3), 6-1. In the rematch, Peterson came out on top 7-5, 6-1.
“The big thing was being patient,” Peterson said. “When I played him the first time, I wasn’t very patient at all, and I really worked on continuing to get one more ball back.”
Healy, who had been undefeated going into that match, enjoyed the competition even in the loss.
“Brecken played a stellar match. I played him earlier in the year and I beat him, so now Brecken and I are 1-1 on the year,” Healy said. “It was a really good match for testing me with what I’m going to see at state. It’s just going to prepare me even more for state and the competition I’m going to see there. I’m excited to see what Brecken does at state, too.”
Peterson has been playing for about three years. His father, Erik Peterson, plays tennis, and had Brecken play against him on the courts at Westwood or Kilgore.
Peterson feels the strength of his game right now is hitting from the baseline, but admits he still has a lot he wants to work on in the next few years.
“He’s consistent. He’s a learner. He’s got a good forehand, good backhand,” Sterling coach Mike Gottemoller said. “He’s smart. He understands the game, understands that there are patterns of play that are generally successful, if not over the immediate point, over the course of time to wear an opponent down.”
Healy summed up Peterson’s game rather succinctly.
“Brecken is an aggressive baseliner, so he will put every ball back to you and he’s going to move you around the court until you miss a shot,” Healy said, “and once you hit him a short ball, he’s going to come in and punish you.”
The Sauk Valley has a strong group going to state, with Peterson and Healy joined in the singles bracket by Newman’s Marvel Zhang. The doubles bracket features Dixon’s Leith Elbzour and Logan Moeller.
“It’s great around here,” Peterson said. “It’s good competition. Hopefully that will prepare us for state. We should be able to build off each other, and if we see each other there, just have fun.”
“If you look at it, we took four of the eight spots to qualify from sectionals, so that just shows there are strong programs during the school year and in the summer around this area,” Dixon coach Jamie Brigl said. “I think you have really quality coaches who have played a lot of tennis in their life from Sterling, Newman and Dixon. And our kids are just used to coming to the courts and hitting, and they want to get better and they have really strong goals and work ethic. We’re excited to see what they can do.”
There was a similarly large contingent the last time the IHSA convened a state tennis tournament in 2019, prior to spring sports taking a COVID-induced hiatus in 2020. In the 2019 tournament, Sterling was represented by Nitz and the doubles pair of Andrew Ivarson and Nathaniel Stout; Dixon sent its doubles team of Daniel Ferguson and Jonathan Rivera; and Newman sent the doubles pairing of Jacob Terveer and Isaac Blaney.
Healy hasn’t been to state as a competitor before, but the junior went as a spectator in 2019, so he’s got a little bit of an idea of the atmosphere of the tournament.
“I went and watched my freshman year, so I know what to expect,” he said. “That’s all those kids do is play tennis, and that’s their whole life. I’ve got to come ready, I’ve got to stay hot, and Ive got to attack.”
Elbzour says he and Moeller are also in that attack mentality, as he knows they need to keep doing what’s been working for them throughout the season.
“One thing me and Logan have been doing well is communicating a lot, which is really a key factor when you play doubles,” he said. “Another thing that we just started doing is we’ve been trying to read our opponents as much as possible. If they go up to the net, we want to hit them a lob or go down the middle. That’s the key.”
“I’m definitely excited to have another person out there with me,” Moeller added, “because I feel like whenever I’m kind of messing up, we can get each other excited and high-five each other, just make sure we’re both playing best. I really like having a partner.”
None of the local players have competed at state before, so there is a little trepidation for what they’ll experience once they’re out on the court on such a big stage.
“I’m not sure what to expect, being a freshman, but it’s really just a learning experience,” Peterson said. “I’ll try to do the best I can.”
“I think we’re definitely really excited just to see what the other schools and players are like; we’ve never really played any big schools like that before,” Moeller said. “So even if we don’t do great, I’m just excited to see how it all is.”
Peterson opens against Highland’s Sutherland Allen at Buffalo Grove on Thursday. Healy plays his first match Thursday at Wheeling against Logan Schultz of Jersey. Zhang faces Ryan Nelson of Nazareth Academy at Vernon Hills. In doubles play, Moeller and Elbzour face Riley Ellegood and Brad Arnold of Woodstock at Palatine.