HOMEWOOD – Chris Olson has been the boy tennis coach at Lincoln-Way East for 20 years. To say his teams have been successful during that span is an understatement.
Lincoln-Way East qualified all six of its entrants at the Class 2A Lincoln-Way East Sectional to the state tournament, winning the sectional championship on Saturday at the H-F Racquet & Fitness Club. The last day of the sectional meet had to be moved from Lincoln-Way East to an indoor venue because of the rain.
But that didn’t stop the Griffins, who secured their second straight sectional title, eighth in the past nine seasons, and 14th in the past 16 that a sectional was held. It also was the 10th time since 2008 that L-W East is sending all six of its sectional players to state.
The state tournament will be held Thursday through Saturday at Hersey High School and surrounding area courts.
“It’s always great sectional competition,” Olson said. “The players may change, but the competition and great play remain consistent. Because of the close proximity and many conference rivalries, the sectional always brings a great intensity.”
The Griffins finished with 30 points. Lincoln-Way Central (24) which will send three to state, was second. Homewood-Flossmoor (16), Lincoln-Way West (14), Lockport (8), Andrew (6), Bolingbrook (2), Romeoville (2), and Rich Township (0) followed.
Leading the list for Lincoln-Way East was the sophomore sensation first doubles team of Tanner Leonard and Ryan Dell with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Lincoln-Way West senior Jacob Stermin and junior Milan Miskovic.
“It’s our bond,” Dell said of what makes the duo, who are now 23-7 on the season, successful. “We spend a lot of time off the court together and we thought playing doubles would be a great opportunity to get together.”
Leonard went to state last season, playing first doubles as a freshman with then-senior Andrew Ernst.
“We were second at the sectional last year, so winning it feels a lot better,” Leonard said. “Coming into this season there was a lot of speculation on the lineup. But once we figured it out [with him and Dell pairing up] we’ve been rolling ever since.
“I know it’s very tough competition at state. But Ryan and I are battle tested so we will see if we can pick off some higher seeds.”
For Dell, he follows in his brother’s footsteps as both his older siblings, Weston in 2016 and 2017, and Emerson, in 2019, also were state qualifiers.
“I was the No. 3 singles player as a freshman and didn’t play in the sectional,” Ryan Dell said. “So I went from watching Tanner at the sectional to playing with him. I’m just ecstatic to be going to state. We’ve seen the best of the best this season and now we get to see them again.”
While the Lincoln-Way West doubles team of Stermin and Miskovic lost in the title match, they solidified their place in Warrior tennis lore. Last season they were the first two state tennis qualifiers in school history. This season they were seeded third in the sectional but upset the No. 2 seeded Griffin doubles team of seniors Manuel Tsoukatos and Jack Forlenza, 6-4, 6-3, in the semifinals.
“The semifinal was a nice win and it was fun,” Lincoln-Way West coach Tim Daly said of his doubles pair. “They did really well. They were fourth in the sectional last year and second this season.
“Jacob is fearless and loves to play at the net. He’s also a hockey goalie and will be playing that sport at Northern Illinois University in college. We’d like for these guys to win a match or two at state.”
Tsoukatos and Forlenza bounced back for a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 win over Lincoln-Way Central seniors Tommy Belka and Dom Evans in the third-place match.
On the singles side, top-seeded Lincoln-Way Central senior Collin Bush ran away with the title. He only lost six sets in his four matches, with four of those coming in a 6-4, 6-0 semifinal win over Lincoln-Way East sophomore Will Pangallo. In the title match, he defeated H-F senior Noah Roberts 6-0, 6-0.
“I just feel I’m staying consistent and doing what my game can do,” said Bush, who also won the sectional championship last year. “This [sectional title] means a lot. I’ve been looking forward to this all year. Everything leads up to this.
“This season my goal is to make it to Day 2 at state. I just have to continue to motivate myself. I’m going on to play tennis at Augustana and I’m excited about that.”
Bush is 30-2 on the season and is closing in on the single-season school record for wins.
“Collin is an absolute competitor,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Jacob Riebe said. “He just dedicates himself to his craft. His resilience is second to none, and I believe there is a great possibility that he will be playing on Friday at state.
“With our first doubles team [Belka and Evans] getting through and us placing second overall, it was great. I’m proud of all of these guys.”
John Kenny, a junior at Lincoln-Way East, defeated his teammate, Pangallo, 6-0, 6-1, for third place. Both will advance to state.
“I’ve seen plenty of great players in my 20 years here,” Olson said. “But the consistent thing here at Lincoln-Way East is that the boys all fight for each other, they battle for each other.”