The girls tennis players had plenty to cheer about – and that was even before juniors Marika Cusick and Caroline Lorenzini defended their state doubles title.
By the time they won a hard-fought three-set championship match at Prospect High School to complete a 28-1 season, the rest of the tournament was over. The Red Devils already had comfortably regained the state team crown with 39 points, 11 ahead of second-place New Trier (28 points). Stevenson (21) was third.
Cusick lives in Hinsdale and Lorenzini in Clarendon Hills. Hinsdale Central sophomore Alex Solovyev (27-3) was third in singles, and seniors Kristy Hamilton and Jackie Altansarnai (22-2) were fifth in doubles to also earn individual medals for top-six finishes. Junior Tiffany Chen (20-5) reached the final 16 in singles.
Everyone’s success toward the Red Devils’ unprecedented 13th state team title was even more important when bad weather during Thursday’s opening day resulted in the cancellation of the double-elimination consolation bracket.
Entries earned two team points per victory, but they were done with any loss prior to Saturday’s quarterfinals. Solovyev added one team point by winning the third-place match.
“The great thing about the championship was it was the true definition of team. Every position played outstanding, and it was such a satisfying team championship,” Hinsdale Central head coach Robin Kramer said. “Their performances were spectacular, and considering the pressure of single elimination. Only playing one match Thursday made this a really emotionally draining couple of days for them and me.”
The Red Devils are known for bringing large number of players and fans to cheer on their state entries. During the streak of four straight team championships from 2006-09, the primary cheer was “Devil Power! We are No. 1!”
Cusick and Hamilton finished fourth in doubles to help the 2009 state championship run. Last season, the Red Devils finished second to Lake Forest, creating a slight problem during cheering practice leading up to state.
“I guess we can’t say, ‘We are No. 1’ because we placed second,” Kramer said. “(After we clinched), Marika said, ‘We’re doing the cheer we are No. 1.’ The kids did that and it was something so symbolic and sweet. To do that cheer again was awesome.”
Cusick and Lorenzini put the finishing touches on a state tournament that couldn’t have gone much better, but they had to dig down deep.
The Red Devils outlasted Nazareth junior Alysa Straub and Lexie Petrovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 by winning the final two games, climaxed by Cusick’s ace on match point.
“That was absolutely a gut-check match of the first degree. Plus the fact that there were so many ups and downs in that match,” Kramer said.
Straub and Petrovic, a No. 5-8 seed, finished fifth at state in 2010. Cusick and Lorenzini had beaten Nazareth 6-1, 6-2 in the Hinsdale Central Sectional final Oct. 15, but in their 2010 sectional final meeting Nazareth won the first set before the Red Devils rallied.
On Saturday, Nazareth forced a third set Saturday by winning the final two games of the second set after jumping to a 4-1 lead. In the final set, the Red Devils took a 3-0 lead only to have Nazareth tie it 3-3. The teams then broke each other’s serves to keep it tied 4-4.
With Straub serving, the Red Devils pulled ahead 5-4 by jumping to a 40-15 lead and Cusick delivering a game-ending play at the net after a strong Lorenzini baseline shot. Cusick served the Red Devils to a 40-15 lead before her ace on double championship point.
At 4-4, the Red Devils won probably their biggest game of the season facing what Kramer called “brutal” wind and late-afternoon sun that Lorenzini had just endured while serving.
“Not only is it the state championships, and there’s 200 people watching, those conditions were incredibly difficult,” Kramer said.
Last season, Cusick and Lorenzini won their title with a perfect 24-0 record after also going undefeated in a few matches as freshmen because Cusick and Hamilton eventually were paired.
In just their fifth match this season Sept. 6, Cusick and Lorenzini suffered their first loss ever, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 to Lyons Township freshman Kristen Thoms and sophomore Alex Chatt, who finished second in singles Saturday.
From that point on, the Red Devils didn’t lose another set—and didn’t even lose more than three games in any set—the remainder of the season until the state championship match. Cusick and Lorenzini were 7-0 at state with the last five victories over teams among the 32 seeds.
“With the LT loss, I know they were disappointed, but it might have been the best thing for them,” Kramer said.
“It’s scary because they’re a great team, but it might have made them greater. I think it showed them a few areas of their style of play to maybe work on and they worked on them so hard. Although they were extremely disappointed, to their credit they learned from that match and attained some things that they learned from.”
Cusick and Lorenzini recorded the Red Devils’ ninth state doubles championship in the tournament’s 40 seasons. Hinsdale Central’s Courtney Dolehide and Nida Hamilton, Kristy’s sister, (2007-08) and Anne Hutchens and Vicki Shields (1979-80) are among the five other teams in IHSA history to win two state doubles championships. No doubles team has won more.
“Hinsdale Central has such an amazing doubles tradition. They’re all great in their own right, but definitely these guys (Cusick and Lorenzini) are fantastic, so competitive,” Kramer said. “They complement each other well. They’re an incredible team to watch. They do so many things so well. When they play well, they’re unbelievable.”
What was even better Saturday was that the other three Red Devils who played also finished on winning notes.
Solovyev, a No. 5-8 seed, captured third with a laborious 7-6 (10), 6-4 victory over top-seeded Wheaton Warrenville South sophomore Keisha Clousing, last year’s second-place state finisher who lost to Chatt in the semifinals.
Hamilton and Altansarnai, a No. 5-8 seed, dominated their fifth-place match 6-1, 6-2 over unseeded Whitney Young freshmen Natalie Whalen and Kendall Scruggs.
“I’ve never left state on the last day with everybody winning. That’s incredible,” Kramer said. “I was so happy for (Hamilton and Altansarnai) because they knew the team already had won. They got to play for a state medal now. There’s no pressure.”
Hamilton made her third state appearance with three different doubles partners, tying for ninth last year with graduated Julia Quintero after being fourth with Cusick in 2009. Altansarnai made her fourth state trip but first in singles after tying for 17th in 2010. Altansarnai joined the program last year as a transfer after two seasons with Plainfield North.
In the quarterfinals, Hamilton and Altansarnai lost 6-2, 7-5 to No. 2-seeded Decatur St. Teresa juniors Tracey Kuhle and Amy Kuhle, who ended up fourth after taking third in 2010 and second in 2009. The Red Devils then beat No. 3-4 seeded Emily Barretta and Gabby Nixon of New Trier 6-4, 6-4 in the consolation semifinals.
Their only other loss this season was to Straub and Petrovic 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 in the sectional semifinals.
“They battled the entire season. They fought their hearts out against (St. Teresa), but to their credit, they played well their next two matches (to finish fifth),” Kramer said.
Solovyev proved she’s in line for more medals after tying for 17th at state as a freshman. She avenged losses to No. 3-4 seeded Deerfield junior Alexis Casati during the regular season and the 2010 state meet with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 quarterfinal victory Saturday before losing in the semifinals 7-5, 6-2 to No. 2-seeded Morgan Park Academy junior Jerricka Boone, the eventual state champion for the second time in the past three years after being injured in 2010.
Solovyev’s only other loss this season was to Chatt in three sets in the sectional final after beating Chatt in three sets the previous weekend in the No. 1 singles final at the conference meet. Saturday marked the only loss this season for Casati, who finished fifth.
“(Solovyev) was so excellent last year, but she picked up her game to a whole other level. When I look at the people she beat in this state tournament, that is unbelievable,” Kramer said.
In her first state appearance, Chen turned in perhaps the biggest victory for the Red Devils Friday before being eliminated 6-4, 6-2 by No. 9-16 seeded Mundelein junior Ari Dechter in the final 16.
A No. 17-32 seed, Chen upset No. 5-8 seed Marian Catholic sophomore Gaby Rosales 6-1, 6-3 in the third round. The victory contributed to the Red Devils’ slight 30-28 lead going into Saturday over New Trier, which also had three entries in the quarterfinals but all lose in that round.
“I hope (Chen) realizes what a wonderful accomplishment that was and how well she played,” Kramer said.
“It won’t look the same (in the final standings), but Friday, psychologically for our team, (Chen’s upset victory) pumped everybody up. I was with Caroline and Marika (at another site) and when the texts were coming in that (Chen) was winning, it even perked up their play.”
This is Kramer’s first state title as a head coach but her seventh in 11 years coaching with the program. She took over as head coach last season from retired longtime head coach Jerilyn Scardina after nine years as an assistant.
Scardina was head coach for the Red Devils’ previous 11 state team titles. Scott Radecki is in his second season as the varsity assistant coach with other assistant coaches Corky King and former Hinsdale Central standout player Shawa Zuccarini.
Did it feel any different for Kramer to win her first state championship as a head coach?
“It’s funny. Everyone’s asking me that, and what’s weird is no,” Kramer said. “When you win a state championship and you’re a part of the program, I don’t really get wrapped up in what my title is. And I don’t look at it as I’m winning it. It’s their state championship. I’m just honored to be a part of it.”
State tennis meet
Top five teams: 1. Hinsdale Central 39, 2. New Trier 28, 3. Stevenson 21, 4. Deerfield 18, 5T. Homewood-Flossmoor, Morgan Park Academy and Wheaton Warrenville South 16
Hinsdale Central results
No. 1-seed Marika Cusick-Caroline Lorenzini: Beat Lynnae DeJong-Rachel Blaauw (Illiana Christian) 6-0, 6-1; beat Lauren Chibucos-Avani Patel (Warren) 6-0, 6-1; beat No. 17-32 Mary Beth King-Daniella Reyes (Benet) 6-0, 6-3; beat No. 9-16 Anna Zelechonok-Katrine Zhadovich (Glenbrook North) 6-2, 6-3; beat No. 9-16 Jenna Borczak-Jorie Fox (Deerfield) 6-0, 6-1; beat No. 3-4 Alexxis Kiven-Kendall Kirsch (Stevenson) 6-3, 6-3; beat No. 5-8 Alysa Straub-Lexie Petrovic (Nazareth Academy) 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 (state champions)
No. 5-8 Kristy Hamilton-Jackie Altansarnai: Beat Ashley Randazzo-Kate Lesswing (St. Charles North) 6-0, 6-0; beat Selena Smith-Sam Jackson (Lincoln-Way North) 6-2, 6-0; beat No. 17-32 Kelsey Laktash-Rachel Siemon (Crystal Lake South) 6-0, 6-3; No. 17-32 Danielle Vasiliev-Michelle Tulchinskay (Stevenson) 6-2, 6-2; lost to No. 2 Tracey Kuhle-Amy Kuhle (Decatur St. Teresa) 6-2, 7-5; beat No. 3-4 Emily Barretta-Gabby Nixon (New Trier) 6-4, 6-4; beat Natalie Whalen-Kendall Scruggs (Whitney Young) 6-1, 6-2 (5th place)
No. 5-8 Alex Solovyev: Beat Maureen Lawless (Peoria Notre Dame) 6-2, 6-0; beat Brianna Dao (Rockford Auburn) 6-0, 6-1; beat No. 17-32 Allison Hanson (Champaign Centennial) 6-1, 6-2; beat No. 9-16 Adesuwa Osabuohien (Homewood-Flossmoor) 6-4, 6-0; beat No. 3-4 Alexis Casati (Deerfield) 6-3, 5-7, 6-4; lost to No. 2 Jerricka Boone (Morgan Park Academy) 7-5, 6-2; beat No. 1 Keisha Clousing (Wheaton Warrenville South) 7-6 (10), 6-4 (3rd place)
No. 17-32 Tiffany Chen: Beat Rachel Tockstein (Centralia) 6-0, 6-0; beat Lexi Chlonis (Chicago Christian) 6-0, 6-0; beat No. 5-8 Gaby Rosales (Marian Catholic) 6-1, 6-3; lost to No. 9-16 Ari Dechter 6-4, 6-2 (tied for 9th)