Girls tennis places fifth at state
Central netters battled tough draws, gained valuable experience for next season
Last updated 10/25/2023 at 3:12pm | View PDF
The two-time defending state champion Hinsdale Central girls tennis team went into the IHSA state meet last weekend having qualified in just three of four possible spots and with only one of five players with previous state experience. Long odds for a three-peat, to say the least.
But the Red Devils still made their mark in Buffalo Grove Oct. 19-21, claiming a share of fifth place with Glenbrook North and Plainfield North, all registering 15 points. New Trier cruised to the title by amassing 35 points, followed by Stevenson's 20. Deerfield and Sandburg shared third with 16 points.
Varsity head coach Shawna Zsinko said while not having a place on the podium is unusual for the program, the girls competed well.
"We already knew this was going to be a little bit of rebuilding year," she said. "I think a lot of good tennis got played."
And against a lot of good players, whom they faced even before the state tournament.
"It was a weird state series for us," Zsinko said. "We had a tough sectional and only qualified five (players) out of it."
Junior Abigail Gambla was the only returnee from last year's title-winning squad. She and doubles partner sophomore Sydney Shuster carried the momentum from their sectional championship into the state final, dispatching their first three opponents and dropping only two games along the way.
Gambla said this season's finale had different vibe.
"Since our state team last year was comprised of seniors besides me, it was super exciting to have the chance to play at state with a new group of friends, especially with my doubles partner," she said.
In the quarterfinals, they faced a New Trier duo who would go on to win the doubles title. Zsinko said they hung strong before eventually falling 7-5, 6-1.
"(Gambla and Shuster) had four set points in the first set in that one," Zsinko said. "They were right there in the mix, and it just didn't go like they wanted it to."
In the back draw, they won a match before facing a formidable Stevenson team. Zsinko said picking up consolation points was complicated by the surprising presence of so many top teams there.
"Their semifinal opponents in the back draw was the semifinal team in the main draw," she said. "It was kind of crazy."
Gambla said going up against the best fosters growth.
"This year's state was an amazing opportunity to play doubles against some really competitive teams," she related.
She and Shuster ended up placing seventh overall, enduring wet weather that afforded Gambla some extra fellowship time.
"My best memory from the weekend was seeing all of my friends from different schools and talking to them while we were waiting for the rain to dry on the courts," she said. "I have a lot of friends that did very well this year at state and I'm very happy for them."
Zsinko said weather delays did throw a wrench into keeping energy levels up at times.
"There was a lot of waiting around. It was kind of hard to get everyone ready to rock and roll," she said. "You never know what's going to happen."
The other doubles team of senior Calista Chang and sophomore Lauren Panveno won their first two matches before falling to a strong Stevenson duo. They picked up two more key points in the back draw to make it to the consolation quarterfinals.
"I feel like state overall went really well and was a huge success for the team," Panveno said. "I think the weekend taught me a lot of important lessons, one being never expect matches to be easy.
"Even though some scores may have reflected an easier match, there was still always a lot of effort and fight behind winning these matches," she added.
The pair garnered six points for the Red Devils, and Panveno appreciated her coaches' constant encouragement during changeovers
"They were always so helpful in making us calm, giving advice, strategy and even making us laugh," she shared.
In singles, junior Kotryna Tomas was a dealt a tough opening match.
"She was unseeded and gets the second seed in the first round," Zsinko said.
Tomas won her second match to add another team point.
Gambla said every chance to compete as for Central is special.
"No matter if you're winning or losing, it is always important to stay positive and cheer your teammates on. Staying positive and supporting each other helped us get through some tough matches and even tougher conditions," she said.
Panveno was a fan of the squad's unified fashion front.
"My best memory of the weekend was our team's matching sweat sets we wore between and during matches at state," she revealed. "I loved getting to show extra school pride and match my friends."
Zsinko said her players will use this as fuel for next season.
"I know that going into next year we're going to be that much more prepared and hungry to compete," she predicted. "They got a lot of good experience and got to be out there to deal with all the pressure."