CARY – It was a season of firsts for many area boys tennis players in the Cary-Grove Sectional on Saturday.
Eight local players qualified for the state finals for the first time. The finals start Thursday at locations across the northwest suburbs. Prairie Ridge won the team title with 24 points, followed by McHenry and Marian Central with 18, Cary-Grove (16), Crystal Lake Central (15) and Johnsburg (13).
The Wolves’ Jack Lamar and Danny Van Bosch placed fourth in doubles to qualify for state. It was the first time the pair had played at sectionals. For Lamar, who first picked up a racked as a freshman, it was a great way to end his senior season.
“Starting tennis as a freshman and make it here was a great experience,” Lamar said.
Johnsburg’s Keven Wells also finished his senior season with his first trip to state by taking third in singles. Wells said whatever happened, he just wanted to play relaxed and enjoy the experience.
“Today I decided just to have fun,” Wells said.
Also qualifying for state for the first time was Cary-Grove’s Owen Russell in singles and Crystal Lake Central’s Matt O’Connell and Billy O’Connell in doubles.
Bij Heydari and Brad Henning won the doubles title for the Wolves, defeating McHenry’s Dennis Quitalig and Nick Higgin, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, in the championship match. Henning and Higgin also are first-time qualifiers.
After losing to Jacobs and the Warriors in back-to-back matches during the season, it was questionable whether Heydari and Henning could regain their form as one of the top doubles teams in the area.
“It did get us down,” Heydari said. “The best champions get right back up. We knew we’d get better eventually.”
Naveed Heydari, Bij’s coach and brother, also was concerned at the time for his doubles team that would also go on to win the Fox Valley Conference Tournament.
“I was scared,” Naveed Heydari said. “I was nervous because it’s a game of momentum. It was really the conference tournament that gave them confidence.”
Henning said the difference in the match was their ability to control the net and catching McHenry right after a long match against Lamar and Van Bosch in the semifinals.
“It’s always our goal to get to the net,” Henning said. “We had a longer break and [McHenry] was still exhausted.”
Marian Central’s Aaron Waters won the singles title, and while it won’t be his first trip to state, it will be his first as a singles player. Waters won sectionals in doubles last year with his brother Riley and qualified two years ago with Conor Moon in doubles.
It’s also the first time in recent memory that a player has won sectional titles in both singles and doubles. Aaron Waters said it was different winning in singles because he only had himself to rely on.
“It’s definitely more of an accomplished feeling,” Aaron Waters said. “Now I just have to feed off of myself.”
As the No. 1 seed, Aaron Waters was heavily favored heading into the tournament, but he said he was worried he would do something stupid.
“It was a lot of relief,” Aaron Waters said of winning. “I was up a lot of nights thinking, ‘What do I have to do to blow it?’ ”
The Wolves’ sent first-year coach Naveed Heydari, who will not coach next season, out on top. For Heydari, it was a year of building a team mentality into an individual sport.
“I’m very proud of the way we bonded as a team,” the coach said.