There were no area boys tennis players seeded at the state finals, which begin Thursday, but nearly half will face seeded players in their first match.
Of the 15 area singles players and doubles teams that qualified for state, seven will face a seeded opponent in the opening round. Although there are some provisions about separating sectional opponents and teammates, the state tournament draw is pretty much a blind one after the 32 seeds in both singles and doubles are determined.
The area’s seven singles qualifiers and eight doubles teams will be spread across eight sites from Schaumburg to Buffalo Grove.
McHenry’s Nick Higgin and Jake Maher, who qualified in doubles after a third-place finish at the Cary-Grove Sectional, did not draw a seed in the first round but are not quite sure who they are playing. They are slated to play IMSA’s Sam Cheung and Rajiv Patel-O’Connor but Patel-O’Connor was paired with Ken Yun at the Waubonsie Valley Sectional, where the team finished fourth.
Warriors coach Kyle Funkhouser said he wasn’t sure why Cheung was listed instead of Yun. The IHSA permits substitutions for doubles players under certain circumstances including injury and the substitute “shall not have participated in the sectional tournament and must have been listed on the school’s online List of Participants.”
“I don’t know if that’s a typo,” Funkhouser said. “I guess we’ll find out first thing [Thursday]. Nothing is ever easy when you get to state, but we could have done worse.”
Jacobs’ Kailash Panchapakesan, who went 3-2 at state last year, faces unseeded Luke Winchester from Ottawa in the first round. If Panchapakesan wins, he could see 9-16 seed Sebastian Lescoulie from Carbondale. Lescoulie, a foreign exchange student from France, gave up just three games in his four matches at the Herrin Sectional and is undefeated on the year.
“I try not to look too far ahead, (but) I’m definitely looking forward to seeing that match,” Jacobs coach Jon Betts said of possibly seeing Lescoulie in the second round. “Kailash is playing extremely well.”
The Golden Eagles’ Riley Rowan and Matt Toomire, who won the Jacobs Sectional doubles title, will see a team from Peoria Notre Dame which placed fourth at the Dunlap Sectional. If they advance, they could see 17-32 seed Justin Buechele and Brandon Lam from Normal Community.
“I’m pretty pleased with the first round (draw),” Betts said. “That Normal team obviously got some pretty good seeding consideration."
Prairie Ridge senior Ryan Kohl, who qualified in doubles as a freshman and in singles as a sophomore, said he focuses more on the experience than the outcome.
“I don’t pay much attention to the results,” Kohl said. “I try to enjoy it. It’s not everyday you get to go to state.”
Still, Kohl does have a specific goal.
“I’m going to try and get my first win there this year,” Kohl said.
Wolves coach Jim Benson said it’s tough getting any recognition surrounded by good tennis players from the North Shore to the St. Charles and Naperville areas. It’s sometimes not so simple to face tougher competition.
“You’re never going to get noticed if you play the team seven feet from you,” Benson said. “We’re just parking up here.”
Betts agrees and said the area is still waiting for a breakout player, like the girls side has had in recent years with the Wolves’ Allison Murphy and Carolyn Huerth winning state in 2009, and Crystal Lake Central’s Nelle Youel making the quarterfinals in 2010 and Jillian Wallace and Evelyn Youel placing in doubles in the fall.
“Despite what PR has done in the past and what Jacobs did last year, we’re not getting a lot of respect at the state level,” Betts said. “We need to build the Fox Valley Conference brand."