Jacobs coach Jim Benson has been looking forward to the upcoming boys tennis season for a long time.
As the JV coach in 2010, Benson saw a strong group of freshmen emerge. He became head coach in 2011 and continued to see those players develop.
“They are an absolute great group of boys and have been working hard to make this year their best yet,” Benson said. “This is their season to prove themselves.”
Benson also benefits from a strong freshman class, led by Kailash Panchapakesan, who is slated to play No. 1 singles. Benson feels Panchapakesan will be able to compete with the best players in the area.
“I’ve never had it where a kid comes in and takes 1 singles,” Benson said. “[Panchapakesan] should be a state qualifier.”
The seniors are led by Brandon Sidor and Kingsley Bernardo, who will play No. 1 doubles this season. Sidor played singles last season and said he was four points away from qualifying for state at the Elgin Sectional. Bernardo qualified for state with his twin brother Kristian last season.
Sidor said he knows the younger players through offseason training which made their assimilation onto the team easy.
“It’s awesome, we’ve got good depth,” Sidor said. “We’re all ecstatic.”
That depth is filling Benson with optimism and causing him to set some lofty goals.
For the past two years at the Downers Grove South Invitational, Jacobs has finished at or very near the bottom of the 16 teams. This year at the invitational April 20, Benson is hoping for a top four finish.
“It’s going to be tough but I think it’s a possibility,” Benson said. “That’s the way I feel; we’ve improved with the talent coming in.”
Here are three other storylines to follow this season.
Weather: Eventually, it will warm up and playing tennis outside will return but will the bad weather to start the season have any lasting impact?
Benson said the biggest impact will be on the inexperienced players who need that time on the court to learn the game. For his better players, it might actually be a benefit as his main focus has been on conditioning.
On Monday, Jacobs ran laps in the school hallways, stopping after each circuit to do strength, abdominal or agility exercises. Benson said he noticed last year when the weather was nice at the start of the season, that his team’s fitness levels were lacking.
“Once we get outside I almost put a pause on conditioning,” Benson said. “That has its effects negatively.”
Crystal Lake South coach Don Nead took his team into a classroom on Monday to talk about a variety of subjects both on and off the court. The Gators have more than 50 players out for the team this year, about half of them never having played competitively.
“Since I had so many players who haven’t played, it gave me a chance to teach,” Nead said. “But four weeks is too much.”
With a makeshift court set up in the gym at South, the team can practice serving and doing other drills.
“I can accomplish a lot inside but ten courts is a lot nicer than one,” Nead said.
FVC Strength: One thing that always seems sure is the strength of the Crystal Lake schools. Jacobs is hoping the road to a Fox Valley Conference championship goes through Algonquin.
“This is the best chance we’ve ever had at it,” Benson said. “We’ve got our depth and I feel like my one doubles team is the strongest I’ve seen in the last four years.”
Kingsley Bernardo echoed his coach’s hopes of winning a conference title.
“This is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Kingsley Bernardo said. “We have high expectations.”
Sidor simply wants to get the Crystal Lake jinx off of his back.
“The past three years I’ve been here we haven’t beaten one Crystal Lake school,” Sidor said. “We’re looking to sweep them this year.”
Nead said the Golden Eagles will get some tough competition from Prairie Ridge led by Ryan Kohl and Bij Heydari. Kohl qualified for state in singles last year at the C-G Sectional.
“I think the only sure thing is PR and Jacobs are going to be strong,” Nead said.
State Qualifiers: Making it to state is the goal for all of the top players in the area. Who will make it this year is far from certain, but nine local players return after qualifying last year.
Crystal Lake Central has two returning state qualifiers with Josh Pudlo and Danny Nelson. Also looking for a return trip to state are Brad Spangenberg from Dundee Crown, Aaron Waters (Marian Central), Brandon Jarva (Crystal Lake South) and Dennis Quitalig (McHenry).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Crystal Lake South, sr.
Jarva qualified for state in doubles last year and also saw a lot of time at No. 1 singles.
Crystal Lake Central, sr.
Nelson, a two-time state qualifier with Jake Lenhard, who graduated, will need to find a new partner or make the move to singles this season.
Brandon Sidor/Kingsley Bernardo
The Jacobs seniors look to be one of the top doubles teams in the area. Kingsley qualified for state in doubles last year and Sidor is looking to qualify for the first time.
Prairie Ridge, jr.
Kohl qualified for state in singles last year and in doubles as a freshman with Bij Heydari.
Marian Central, sr.
Waters moves to No. 1 singles after qualifying for state last year in doubles with his older brother Riley.
– Rob Smith