Central tennis still dominates at state

Team effort leads to fourth title since 2018; boys track earns three wins, fourth place

They've done it again.

The Hinsdale Central boys tennis team won the state title Saturday for the fourth time in five years and 28th time in history.

The team earned 36 points to handily beat New Trier (30 points) and Fremd (29 points) for the Class 2A championship at the state final Thursday to Saturday, May 25-27, at Palatine High School.

"We always try to be optimistic," varsity coach John Naisbitt said. "We knew we were going to be in a close tournament. We really did. We played New Trier early in the year and they got us pretty good. We played Fremd at their place, and Fremd won three of the four state positions.

"We went into it saying we have to play our best tennis of the year, our best tournament, and we did. We played better than our rivals and we got the championship because of it."

Central managed to win state without capturing any first-place finishes, which is not atypical, Naisbitt said.

"While it's helpful to have a title - it really is helpful - it's not mandatory. We've done this before and so have other teams," he said.

No. 1 singles player Alex Kotarski, a junior, earned the highest finish by placing second, winning his first five matches before falling to Fremd's Andrew Spurck in the final. He earned 12 points for the team.

"His second-place finish was instrumental in getting us enough points to win state," Naisbitt coach said.

Kotarski said the highlight of the tournament was beating Hersey's Mitch Sheldon in the semi-finals.

"I had lost to him pretty badly about a month ago," Kotarski said. "Finding out that win had clinched us the team title was huge."

Kotarski was riding that high when he went into his final match.

"Obviously I wanted to win, but was just happy and ready to compete," he said.

The No. 1 doubles team of Nathan Hernandez and Bodie Teuscher came in third,

earning 11 points.

Naisbitt said the duo did an excellent job.

"They are sophomores who had not been to state," he said. "They are inexperienced at state, but they are tournament players and they had a great tournament coming in third."

Hernandez said he and his teammate started out confident and strong.

"We were just playing better and better," he said. "The momentum was just kind of stacking up."

Then it was time for the semifinal match against New Trier's Chris Ackerman and Stan Okesson, who ended up placing second.

"I was playing a kid I've known my entire life (Ackerman) and we've been going back and forth for a while," Hernandez said. "It was just a lot of pressure and a lot of new things we had to do in order to beat them and we didn't really catch onto it in time. They had a completely different style of doubles than what we were used to."

After the loss, the two had to regroup to play for third place. Hernandez's older brother Noah, who placed second in singles at state last year, offered some much-needed encouragement.

"I'd say in the beginning it was pretty hard to move on from the loss," Hernandez said. "We lost the first set 6-4. I was talking to my brother Noah on the sidelines. He told me to bring the energy up and this matters, third place matters, so we just brought the energy up on the second and the third set."

Teuscher said the tournament was nerve-wracking but as it went on, he acclimated better to the pressure.

"Especially that last match, I felt like once I had enough confidence, I played a lot better," he commented.

He agreed with Hernandez that playing for third place was challenging, especially with the championship match taking place on the very next court. But he didn't want to finish fourth.

"I think there's such a big difference between third and fourth place," he said.

Also competing for Central was Winston Stangle, who earned 6 points in singles, and the doubles team of James Theriault and Aidan Hernandez, who earned 7 points. Their contributions made a difference, Naisbitt said.

"If you're not going to have one or two individual titles, you need to have a whole team effort, and that's absolutely what we did and what we preached all year," he said.

Assistant coaches Bill and Peter Alex, a father-son team, were critical in the effort, Naisbitt said.

"They're brilliant and they just did a great job of managing and helping and coaching," he said. "We wouldn't be here without Bill and Peter Alex."

• Hugh Davis from Hinsdale, a sophomore at Benet Academy, and his partner, Zach Bobofchak of Naperville, won the 1A state doubles title Saturday, beating Jake Goldstein and Mark Tismensky of the Latin School of Chicago in the championship match and earning 14 of the team's 20 points.

"Winning it all was just a surreal moment," Davis texted The Hinsdalean. "Seeing the last ball drop out and the satisfaction of winning it on the first match point was amazing. It is what we worked hard for all season and what our goal was from the very beginning.

"It is also cool that we are the first state champions in Benet's boys tennis history, so to do that was just special and a moment we will never forget," he added.

Fellow Hinsdalean and Benet sophomore Patrick Burke also competed and placed in the top 12. The three helped the Redwings capture state runner-up honors.

Boys track takes fourth

The Hinsdale Central boys track team earned three first-place finishes and came in tied for fourth at the state finals May 25-27 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

Senior Dan Watcke won the 800-meter race and was part of the 4x800-meter relay that also captured first. His performance was outstanding, varsity coach Jim Westphal said.

"He's an athlete who in those pressure situations always steps up," Westphal remarked. "Ending his career in that fashion just speaks to his legacy of performing at a very high level. Pretty remarkable as you think about his career."

Watcke, who won the 800 at state as a sophomore and then came in second as a junior, had a burning desire to improve on last year's performance.

"It was good to finally get back on top. It felt good to win it for sure," he said.

Seniors Michael Skora, Grant Miller, Kyle Doorhy and Watcke were motivated to win in the 4x800-meter relay after their teammates in the 4x400 had a baton exchange mishap in the preliminaries. Another team's interference was cited as the cause by Central but not by meet officials, and the team didn't make it to the finals.

"It was disappointing, but I think the team used it as motivation to try to get as many points as we could on Saturday with the events we made it in. It actually motivated me to try to win those two events," Watcke said.

Westphal said the athletes handled the situation really well.

"They were certainly disappointed, absolutely, as one would be in that situation," he said. "They processed it that evening, but after that they just put it behind them and went in Saturday focusing on what they could do and what they needed to do. They demonstrated some great maturity and resolve."

The seniors also were facing the pressure of being the team to beat as returning state champs.

"Our guys, every one of them responded just admirably, from Michael leading off putting us in a good position to Grant Miller keeping us in that position. Kyle Doorhy ran great and Dan Watcke, your star anchor, for the win. It was pretty remarkable and a lot of fun," Westphal related.

Junior Aden Bandukwala earned two medals at the meet, placing first in the 1,600-meter race and third in the 3,200 meters.

"He ran extremely tough in the two miles to get third place in that event. It's a very tough double for a weekend to run the two (mile) and the one (mile). That's a big ask," Westphal said.

Bandukwala had a tough start on his second race.

"He was way out of it with a lap to go," his coach said. "I thought he was going to get last place. His final lap was remarkable, how he closed and finished and won the event. It was very, very exciting. It was thrilling.

"He said, 'Coach, I was tired. My legs were dead.' They were for three of the four laps and something clicked and he put on the jets and it was game over," Westphal continued. "It was pretty remarkable - one of the best finishes I've ever seen."

While the team had hoped to bring home a trophy, Westphal said he is happy with the team's 37 points and fourth-place finish.

"We do not take fourth place for granted," he said. "That's a remarkable achievement. We know that those guys laid it on the line and had a great weekend. As coaches, you couldn't be happier for them."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean