Kailash Panchapakesan has played a lot of tournament tennis, but it wasn’t until he played on his high school team at Jacobs that he fully understood tennis as a team sport.
Panchapakesan had many memorable highlights this season at No. 1 singles, but bonding with his teammates created just as strong of memories.
“Playing tennis, I love it. But the one thing I’ve always missed is the team aspect,” Panchapakesan said. “With high school tennis, it is a team. You’re representing your school.”
Golden Eagles coach Jon Betts, who took over the program this season, said it was important that Panchapakesan, even as a sophomore, embrace the team aspect.
“I made it clear that playing at that No. 1 singles spot, people are going to look at [Panchapakesan] as a leader,” Betts said. “He was just as excited for the team’s success as his own.”
That team aspect also contributed to Panchapakesan’s achievements on the court. Having teammates pulling for him and wanting to win not just for himself but the team’s success inspired him to play better.
“With high school you have the support of your teammates,” Panchapakesan said. “It’s a special experience.”
Panchapakesan went undefeated in the Fox Valley Conference for the second straight season and won the conference tournament at No. 1 singles. He qualified for state with a second-place finish in the Jacobs Sectional.
For his accomplishments, Panchapakesan is the Northwest Herald Boys Tennis Player of the Year, as selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches. He won the award last year as a freshman.
Also given strong consideration was Hampshire’s Elisha Hougland, who won three matches at state to advance to the fourth consolation round.
At state, Panchapakesan went 2-2, but it was his second-round loss to 9-16 seed Sebastien Lescoulie from Carbondale that left him knowing he belonged as one of the state’s top players. He played Lescoulie tough, losing 6-4, 7-6 (8-6).
The match was close despite Panchapakesan getting severe leg cramps that hampered his mobility.
“Having that tight match with the 9-16 seed showed me I was right there with him most of the match,” Panchapakesan said. “It showed me I was capable of competing with him.”
It showed Betts what Panchapakesan was capable of.
“For his final two seasons we’ve got some pretty big goals for him,” Betts said. “I truly believe he can hit with anyone in the state.”
Cramping up in his second match at state showed Panchapakesan that he needed to be in better shape for next season.
“I realize what I needed to fix. It’s a learning experience,” Panchapakesan said. “There’s always room to get better, whether it’s fitness or mental.”
Betts said one of the biggest improvements for Panchapakesan was his mental toughness. That was evident in the FVC tournament, where his bracket included Hougland and Crystal Lake Central’s Josh Pudlo.
Hougland knocked off Pudlo in three sets in the semifinals. In the finals, Panchapakesan defeated Hougland, 6-1, 3-6, 10-7 (pro set).
“With Pudlo and with Elisha, it would be two previous conference champions that [Panchapakesan] would have to get through,” Betts said. “Mentally, he was able to handle pressure from extremely strong players.”
Panchapakesan said he was a lot more confident this year after playing at No. 1 singles last season. That experience made him more patient.
“Before, the tendency for me was to end the point. This year, I’m trying to stay in the point a lot longer,” Panchapakesan said. “I’m willing to put in more effort for the end result.”
As pleased as Betts is with Panchapakesan the tennis player, he is equally proud of his top player’s personal demeanor.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with everything he’s done. In addition to how he’s played, his sportsmanship on the court has been outstanding,” Betts said. “Everyone recognized him as a really humble competitor.”