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Girls tennis season preview: New Glenbrook South coach inherits talented team

08/24/2014, 2:15pm CDT
By Eric Van Dril | For Sun-Times Media | @VanDrilSports

News about Evanston, New Trier, Glenbrook North, Regina, Loyola, North Shore, Niles North, Niles West, Maine South and Ridgewood also included.

Glenbrook South’s Martina Dragoytchev hits a forehand during her doubles match at the Glenbrook North Sectional on Oct. 19, 2013 in Northbrook.

Glenbrook South’s Martina Dragoytchev hits a forehand during her doubles match at the Glenbrook North Sectional on Oct. 19, 2013 in Northbrook. | File

Glenbrook South figures to be one of the area’s strongest girls tennis teams, with Minnesota commit Annemarie Emme, Martina Dragoytchev and Jessica Chepurda all entering their senior seasons.

All three are familiar names, as is first-year coach Stephanie Mats, who took over the program after Katie Nicolotti moved to Pennsylvania with her family.

Mats, whose maiden name is Heller, was a four-year player at Glenbrook North. As a senior, she teamed with Ali Salomone to win the state doubles championship in 2004. Mats played collegiately at Indiana and coached the Niles West junior varsity team for the past two years.

She’s enthused about coaching the Titans this year.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Mats said. “They’re not only a great group of talented girls, but they’re just really, really nice girls. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very fun and exciting season.”

Evanston

Evanston had a pair of entries in the state tournament last year, as Olivia Luby and Kate Kremin qualified as a doubles pairing and Jessica Ampel qualified in singles.

Neither Luby nor Kremin is still on the Wildkits’ tennis team, however. Luby graduated and Kremin, a junior who was an excellent defender on Evanston’s soccer team this spring, chose to concentrate on soccer this fall.

Ampel is back, though, and Evanston coach Joyce Anderson said the junior has improved greatly over the past year.

“She’s just stronger, quicker, her [shots] are heavier, it’s harder to attack her shots,” Anderson said. “She’s going to play some No. 1 doubles this year, as well. We’re going to see how things sort of work out, based on our competition.”

The IHSA doesn’t release its sectional assignments until September, but the area is full of excellent singles players. Depending on where Evanston is assigned, Ampel’s best route back to state may be as one half of a doubles team.

New Trier

New Trier, as has often been the case in recent years, won a state trophy last season. The Trevians took third, just one point away from tying Hinsdale Central and Lake Forest for a state title.

“It was great last season in the sense that we really had a great state tournament,” New Trier coach Jerry Morse-Karzen said. “A lot of our kids played very well. All the kids either met or exceeded expectations last season at state, and the tough thing was we were just one point away from the state title. It was great, and yet it was a little bit disappointing because we were so close.”

Half of last year’s state qualifiers are back. Lineups in tennis are fluid throughout the year, but Morse-Karzen seems partial to using senior Taylor Tamblyn and junior Cammy Frei — Frei was third in the state at doubles last year — at the top of the Trevians’ singles lineup, then trying players like junior Catherine MacKinnon, sophomore Michelle Buyer, junior Tess Lubin and senior Laura Swenson at different spots to see what works best.

Glenbrook North

Glenbrook North was in full-on rebuilding mode last year, having lost 10 seniors and four members of its state lineup from 2012.

This year is different. Junior Maddy Kahn, and sophomores Danielle Sokol, Hailey Koretz and Colette O’Regan — the top four members of the Spartans’ lineup a year ago — are back. They’re joined by several talented players, including freshman Catherine O’Regan, who’s Colette O’Regan’s sister.

The team’s collective experience has made this year’s squad feel more at ease.

“It’s comfortable because most of them have been there before,” Glenbrook North coach Peg Holecek said regarding the mood of early-season practices. “They’re a very welcoming group. They’re a hard-working group. They take their tennis seriously and that is a great foundation to build on this season.”

Regina

Regina coach Bob Lepkowski plans on spending this week figuring out his lineup.

“In our league, we play a two-singles, three-doubles format, so I need two good, solid singles players and a third to be a backup,” Lepkowski said when asked what goes into determining his lineup. “And I’ve got a new freshman this year who’s looking quite good. I just want to see how her temperament goes — about whether she’s a competitor.”

That freshman is Alessia Girardin. Lepkowski said she hasn’t played much in previous years but has previous tournament experience and hits well. If Girardin works as a No. 2 singles player — returning senior Barbara Acacia played No. 1 singles last year, and is likely to slide back into that spot this season — then the Baubonis sisters would likely be paired together at No. 1 doubles.

Lepkowski said Catherine Baubonis, a senior, and Caroline Baubonis, a sophomore, really enjoy playing together and, in jest, said, “If I split them up, I’ll have to fight with them.”

Loyola

Loyola finished 98th in the state last year, as sisters Abby Witkowski, a then-junior, and Caroline Witkowski, a then-freshman, went 1-2 at the state tournament.

North Shore Country Day

North Shore Country Day wasn’t able to advance anybody to the state tournament a year ago, but it did finish fourth out of nine teams at the Niles North Sectional.

Niles North

John Amaro has been the girls tennis coach at Niles North for the past nine years, and he said he’s never before coached a player who hits as well as freshman Michelle Bacalla.

Bacalla joins the Vikings’ tennis team having a wealth of tournament experience, as well as a five-star ranking on tennisrecruiting.net. Bacalla is ranked 68th in her class nationally as of Monday. She has the potential to be one of the top finishers at the state tournament this year, Amaro said.

“She has a solid all-around game,” Amaro said. “She can hit the ball heavy, she can hit the ball with spin. She has every shot at her disposal. She’s got an extraordinary return of serve and she also has a very strong and accurate serve as well. She has a really strong all-around game. She’s athletic, she’s quick. She was pretty much born to play tennis.”

Bacalla will likely play No. 1 singles all season, and the Vikings figure to have several quality players at the top of their lineup. Sophomore Sabrina Palavra, who played No. 1 singles for Niles North a year ago, is back. So too are junior captain Alexandra Burbules and senior captain Noa Horberg.  

Niles West

Niles West is full of varsity experience this year. Four-year varsity members Analise Vujica and Katie Chleboun are entering their senior years and returning state qualifier Eliza Kirov, a sophomore standout, also is back. 

Junior Anna Chlopecki, like those three players, also has been up on varsity since she was a freshman, and she made big steps this offseason. Niles West coach George Bravos said Chlopecki attended four different camps and seemed to always be playing tennis — even during the excruciatingly cold winter.  

“When you look at Anna, she’s more assertive on the court,” Bravos said. “Her strokes are stronger. She’s more consistent on the court. She’s attacking the ball with more confidence. You can really see all of the hard work that she put in this summer — and not just the summer, [but] taking private lessons during the winter, working with private coaches. You can really see her starting to develop into one of the better players on our team.”

Maine South

Maine South finished 16th in the state a year ago, which was the Hawks’ best finish at the state tournament since 2010. 

The team’s three-person state lineup — junior Leigh Friedman and sophomores Marti Wind and Kamila Czosnyka — is back. Senior Randi Wind, who just barely missed out on making it to state, also has returned.

That core of four should be at the top of the Hawks’ lineup this season, but it’s not a guarantee they’ll play as they did for much of last season — when Friedman and Randi Wind were at singles, and the then-freshmen played doubles.

“I’m kind of thinking about that,” Maine South coach Andrea Tisler said, regarding keeping Marti Wind and Czosnyka together at No. 1 doubles this year. “I guess we’re going to do a lot of match play this week to kind of figure it out. Kamila and Marti worked well together, but I kind of want to see how Kamila and Randi do together.”

Ridgewood

Ridgewood won’t field a varsity squad this year, but Julia Wicklund will lead the Rebels’ junior varsity team. 

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