Prairie Ridge boys tennis coach Willy Stastny tempered his expectations of his No. 1 doubles pair heading into the season.
Seniors Jared Arkell and Max Kueller hadn’t played together. Arkell was entering his second season on the tennis team, while Kueller spent the first three years of his high school career playing singles.
Stastny’s caution disappeared quickly.
“After the first match I saw them play,” he said.
The duo is heading to the IHSA Class 1A state tournament a week after winning the Fox Valley Conference No. 1 doubles title.
“Max is consistent on ground strokes from having played singles almost his entire high school career,” Stastny said. “He made it to the second day of the state tournament in singles last year. Pair that with Jared’s aggression at the net. He has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. It’s not the most traditional doubles style, but it works for them.”
Kueller went 2-2 last year in the Class 1A singles tournament. He and Arkell are 28-2 this season with an undefeated FVC record and four tournament titles to their credit.
Arkell played baseball his freshman and sophomore years before turning to tennis. He had little trouble picking up the sport.
“For baseball, it’s similar to tennis with your hands, reacting to catching a ball, reacting to hitting a ball,” Arkell said. “I’ve always been pretty competitive. I put in a lot of time in the offseason.”
Kueller and Arkell are two of 21 local athletes who will compete at the state tournament this week. The tournament, hosted by Hersey, begins Thursday at multiple high schools throughout the northwest suburbs.
Joining Arkell and Kueller is Prairie Ridge’s No. 2 doubles team of Hunter Fredrick and Sam Kim. They finished second at the Class 1A Freeport Sectional behind Arkell and Kueller. Both doubles teams would like to re-create the success of last year’s Wolves doubles pairs.
A year ago, Daniel Lamar and Patrick Nasta reached Saturday at the state tournament. Along with Kueller’s singles performance and a solid tournament from Devarsi Rawal and Ben Lingner in doubles, Prairie Ridge finished eighth overall.
“It was fun to watch, for sure,” Arkell said. “I learned a lot from Patrick Nasta, specifically, with his volleys and placement of shots. It’s cool to fill their shoes.”
Despite Prairie Ridge’s doubles success last weekend, it was Crystal Lake South that won the team title at the Freeport Sectional. Freshman Jackson Schuetzle won the singles title, and seniors Alex Freeman and Dan Minogue finished third in doubles.
“The kids really stepped up,” first-year South coach Rick Bailey said.
Bailey took over for retired coach Don Nead, who coached the Gators for their entire existence – 40 years before this season – and 10 years at Crystal Lake Community High School before South opened.
Bailey coached at Johnsburg for 30 years. He coached at Mundelein in 2018. Last fall, while Bailey was serving as assistant girls coach at South, Nead asked Bailey if he was interested in the head boys coaching position.
“Coming from someone like that, it’s one of the nicest compliments you can receive, that a guy of that caliber thinks enough of you to ask you a question like that,” Bailey said. “That was his baby for a long, long time. His name, his brand, his effort, his work, his commitment, his success was all into it. I have enormous respect for him as a coach and as a person.”
In Bailey’s first season, the Gators brought home their first sectional title since 2010. This is their first season competing in Class 1A.
Schuetzle is 25-6. Bailey likes the composure he has seen from the freshman.
“What has impressed me about him is his athletic competitiveness on the court, which I love, but also how well he’s not panicked, not lost his head, not gotten angry,” Bailey said. “I’ve never once had to look him in the eye and say, ‘Cut that out.’”
LOCAL STATE QUALIFIERS
Crystal Lake South: Jackson Schuetzle, fr., singles; Alex Freeman and Dan Minogue, sr./sr., doubles.
Marian Central: Mike Dowling, sr., singles; Andrew Lydon and Max Striedl, sr./sr., doubles.
Prairie Ridge: Jared Arkell and Max Kueller, sr./sr., doubles; Hunter Fredrick and Sam Kim, sr./so., doubles.
Cary-Grove: Daniel Sowa and Thomas Conneen, jr./sr., doubles.
Crystal Lake Central: John Wallace, sr., singles; Jared Otlewis and Luke Reupert, sr./sr., doubles; Nathan Kopp and Kolbe Wallin, sr./sr., doubles.
Jacobs: Kyle Burton, sr., singles; Thomas Nelson, fr., singles.
Hampshire: Blake Snider and John McCann, sr./sr., doubles.