Shoot for the stars.
Jessica Kovalcik certainly is.
After breezing through her first-ever sectional tennis tournament, the Plainfield North freshman was asked what her goal is at the upcoming state tournament.
“I’m going to try to win state,” she said.
Don’t count her out. She’s undefeated and only dropped one game the entire sectional. That was in a 6-1, 6-0 win over Neuqua Valley junior Emily Chiou in the singles championship match on Saturday afternoon at the Class 2A Lockport Township Sectional.
Kovalcik is one of four state qualifiers, including a doubles team, for the Tigers. The tourney will be held this Thursday through Saturday at Buffalo Grove and surrounding high schools.
It was Neuqua Valley (32 points), however, which qualified all six of its players and won the team title at the sectional for the fourth straight season and seventh time in the past eight years. Plainfield North (25) which has never won a sectional in the sport, was second the host Porters (15) placed third, while Joliet West and Plainfield Central (10 points apiece) tied for fourth in the 10-team field.
“She’s earned it and has put in a lot of time,” Plainfield North coach Raghav Saini said of Kovalcik. “She has been playing since she was five years old and Plainfield North is the benefit of that.
“We had three freshmen who qualified and this is the first time ever (the first varsity season was in 2006) we’ve ever got three spots to state. I’m really proud to do that with Neuqua Valley in the same sectional.”
Playing since a young age, Kovalcik is already one of the top players and is listed as the No. 2 top recruiting prospect in Illinois on the Tennis Recruiting Network website. She is undefeated on the season and never lost a game in winning all 13 of her Southwest Prairie Conference matches. She appreciates her accomplishments.
“I’m super excited to go to state,” Kovalik said. “My dad (Dusan) introduced me to the sport and I’ve been training with USTA since I was six. I just run for every ball and never give up. I just love being on the court and winning points.”
Santoshi Yadagiri is also a freshman for the Tigers and will also be at state after placing third at the sectional. After falling 6-4, 6-3 to Chiou in the semifinals, she defeated Neuqua Valley junior Hannah Kestenberg 6-3, 6-1 for third.
“It’s really good and I wasn’t expecting it,” Yadagiri said of going to state. “I was undefeated this season until the semifinals but had a tough quarterfinal match (winning 6-3, 6-2) over (sophomore) Martyna Kalinowska from Lockport.
“I’ve been playing tennis for eight years now and my backhand is my strength. I’m hoping to win a couple of matches at state but as a freshman, I will just do my best.”
Also advancing to state for the Tigers is senior Isabela Person and freshman Thea Salcedo in doubles. The duo was the fifth seed at the sectional but slipped past Plainfield Central seniors Juliana Macauley and Jenna Mohler 6-3, 7-6 in the first round and upset No. 4 seed senior Heather Heintz and sophomore Breanne Schultz from Lockport 6-3, 7-5 in the quarterfinals.
But Lockport’s top doubles team of sisters Emelia and Patricia Jurzyk won third place with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Person and Salcedo.
“It feels good, especially after our other doubles team lost to Plainfield North in a close quarterfinal so we got to avenge that match,” senior Emilia Jurzyk said. “It’s great going to state especially since I didn’t know if it would happen. But it’s also bittersweet, especially since it’s my last time playing on my home courts.”
Emilia is a four-year varsity player. She went to state in doubles as a sophomore and her younger sister played doubles together the past two years. After placing second in the sectional they would have gone to state last fall but the finals were canceled because of COVID.
“I don’t know what to expect from state because last year just ended here (at the sectional) and we didn’t go,” sophomore Patricia Jurzyk said. “Sadly we’re the only ones who qualified (from Lockport) abut it feels good and it was a hard sectional.”
It certainly was as the Porters came in having won four straight sectionals and eight in the past 11 years.
In the all Neuqua Valley doubles title match, it was seniors Abigail Allen and Emiley Piao with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over junior teammates Tanisha Aggarwal and Victoria Yin.