Boys tennis earns third title in a row

Players send Naisbitt into retirement with nine championships in his 14-year career

John Naisbitt began his tenure as Hinsdale Central's varsity boys tennis coach in 2010, hoping to lead the team to its fourth straight championship. Instead the team came in second.

"I learned a great deal about details and making sure everything was in line and you can't take anything for granted," he said.

In 2011, the team came in fifth.

"Then 2012 came along. Martin Joyce, Eddie Grabill. We won four straight," he said. "We did five more in the next eight years."

Naisbitt ended his career with his ninth state title Saturday at the IHSA finals hosted by Palatine High School. The team came in first with 36 points, followed by Hersey with 28 points and New Trier with 25.

Leading the team was senior singles player Alex Kotarski, who finished as state runner-up for the second consecutive year.

"Alex Kotarski is our best player," Naisbitt said. "He got us 12 points - the absolute anchor for our team title."

Kotarski is the kind of player who is able to elevate his game to match the talent of his opponent, his coach said.

"It's so wonderful that he's able to do that. It's a joy," Naisbitt said. "He never ceases to amaze me."

Kotarski said returning to the finals was a huge accomplishment.

"I think probably my biggest win was my semifinals win," he said. "I was able to revenge my loss in last year's state final to Andrew Spurck (Fremd), my good friend."

After getting off to a slow start against Spurck, Kotarski said he started to gain momentum and then the game was stopped due to weather.

"I was able to use the rain delay to my advantage and come back firing on all cylinders," he said.

He beat Spurck 7-5, 6-0.

Winning the state title was a relief, he said.

"Obviously we knew it was Coach Naisbitt's last state tournament, his last season," Kotarski said. "We all wanted to go out performing to the best of our abilities."

Junior Nathan Hernandez, the team's No. 2 singles player, came in fourth. He struggled in his first round, losing his first set.

"It was just nerves," Naisbitt said. "He ended up winning in a third set tie break and then he rolled from there. He got his feet under him."

Hernandez's fourth and final win was his quarterfinal match, where he earned four points to bring his total to 10.

"That team trophy is so important to each and every one of us," Naisbitt said. "His win in the quarterfinals was an enormous part of our path to victory."

The doubles team of sophomores Barry Zhu and Nicholas Marringa also came in fourth. The two had played only two matches together heading into state, their coach said.

"Sectionals they had a great match with the No. 1 seed in the state, the LT team, and they beat (Central doubles team) Aidan (Hernandez) and Bodie (Teuscher). We knew they could play," Naisbitt said.

In the third round, the team took down the Edwardsville team that was the No. 2 seed.

"It was the spark on Thursday to get them through the third round and into the quarterfinals," he said. "They beat a very good doubles team to get into the semifinals.

"They had a great tournament. They played so well. It's just kind of part and parcel that we get into late May and play our best tennis," Naisbitt said.

Aidan Hernandez and Teuscher won their first two matches before losing in the third round.

"Their two wins were again part of the recipe," Naisbitt said. "They absolutely had to get to the third round unscathed and they did."

Aidan Hernandez, one of only two seniors in the state lineup, said the Highland Park team he and Teuscher lost to is the same team they lost to last year in their bid for the state title.

"We drew them earlier than we would have wanted to," he said. "We just didn't show up that day. The team showed up and it was a great team win."

He said what he'll remember most is that he and his coach closed out their high school careers at the same time.

"We kind of got sent off together," he said. "That was almost special in a way, sending him off on a win, and it was definitely something that I will remember."

Naisbitt ends his career having led his teams to the state final meet each of his 14 years as head coach. In addition to the nine championships, his teams have placed second three times, third once and fifth once.

"You could blow me over with a feather," he said, recalling the doubts he had about his own abilities after the 2010 team lost the state title by one point. "I am just tickled pink that I am part of this program. I am honored to be their coach. I am humbled to be in this position with a 14-year run.

"It's right up there with the 1970s when Jay Kramer won nine straight," he added. "We're in the same conversation about being a dominant era."

Naisbitt, whose decision to retire is relatively recent, said he will miss the players and being part of a program of which he is extremely proud. He plans to spend his time enjoying his family and his pets, he said.

"I love it and it was my life, but I think I'm ready to try new challenges," he said.

Boys track and field

The Hinsdale Central boys track and field team placed 12th at the IHSA state finals Friday and Saturday at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. Senior Aden Bandukwala placed first in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:51.11 and second as part of the 4x400-meter relay (3:18.05).

"He finished his career on a high note as expected," head coach Jim Westphal said. "He had such a stellar career.

"He ran exceptionally well in both the 800 and the 4x4," he added. "He had a great state meet as usual."

Bandukwala was joined on the relay by senior Jack Parkins, junior Smith Maxwell and sophomore Braden Tingler.

"Those guys did a great job of getting through to the finals and running really well on Saturday," Westphal said.

Bandukwala said the meet was a great way to end his career.

"It was a super fun race," he said of the relay. "All the guys did great. We shaved a second off our time at sectionals. We were all pretty happy with it."

Bandukwala ends his high school career with four state titles, two in cross country and two in track, having placed first in the 1,600 at state last year. He said his first cross country title his junior year, which he had no expectation of winning, was the most significant.

"Winning that changed a lot of things," Bandukwala said. "I didn't feel like I was one of the top guys in the state at that point. Winning that all of the sudden propelled me to that place."

Senior Mark Ortiz placed 15th in the preliminaries in shot put (16.61 meters) in his first state appearance.

"He threw a PR, a personal record, by over two feet," Westphal said. "It's not easy to go down there and PR, which he did. He had a great meet in his own right."

Senior Michael Prieto was sick the week before competing in the preliminaries in high jump, Westphal said.

"I don't think he fully recovered. He didn't have his energy or his legs. It was not the outcome he was hoping for," Westphal said.

The 4x800-meter relay also competed in the preliminaries.

"The guys that went down did a really nice job," Westphal said. "It was a nice end to the season."

• Junior Finn Richards of Hinsdale competed in the 3,200-meter run at state for Benet Academy, placing 21st.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean