Fall Sports 2021 Sneak Peek: How Many Big 12 Tennis Players Can State? | Sports
Max Braun, James Braun and Lino Jo of Centennial, as well as Ezra Bernhard and Brayden Helfer of Champaign Central, gave the local teams at the Big 12 conference something to celebrate last June.
Max Braun won a State Championship in Boys’ Singles Class 1A. The James Braun / Jo duo placed sixth in the doubles 1A, and the Bernhard / Helfer duo advanced to the quarter-finals of the 1A doubles. The Chargers placed second on the team.
It was a banner showing the league on the boys’ tennis scene.
The same could be true for women’s tennis this season, especially with Centennial and Danville in 1A instead of 2A.
“Our section in the past has been very strong, with several of the Big 12 schools,” said Danville coach Kathy Houpt. “This is the first year for us to be 1A so I don’t know what that looks like.”
The non-Big 12 St. Thomas More school has prevented Champaign Central and Urbana from clawing back excess state berths on Local 1A in recent seasons. Senior Maroons Alexis Jones in singles and the pairing of senior Claudia Larrison and sophomore Mariclare O’Gorman in doubles would, however, have qualified for the State 1A tournament, had it taken place in 2020.
“I would be surprised at any Big 12 program that hasn’t reached state level to some extent this season,” said Urbana coach Parker Sands, a Danville alumnus. “I have to give credit to our rivals from Crosstown to Champaign, because Central and Centennial have built great, long-lasting programs. Each year, each school seems to add a freshman phenomenon to an already strong lineup of veterans. “
Chargers sophomore Sandhya Subbiah impressed at the No.1 singles last year, and the move from 2A to 1A in the playoffs – plus another season of experience – could give him a deeper run in the playoffs. Senior Aviv Sagiv also reportedly qualified for the state’s 2A doubles draw with now graduated Leah Luchinski.
But it is the Vikings of Houpt who are at the forefront of the local Big 12.
Junior pairs Lexi Ellis / senior Kedzie Griffin and junior Ava Towne / junior Josie Hotsinpiller would all have qualified for the States’ draw in doubles 2A last year. Griffin is currently battling an injury, but all four are thriving in singles as well.
“We have a very busy schedule and are playing girls from all over the state to prepare for the conference, section and state tournament,” Houpt said. “We have a team goal of a strong conference and section final and hope to send as many of our players as possible.”
Urbana is led by senior co-captains Hannah Null, Jacie Owens and Myra Stevens. Sands helped now graduate Bill Layton at the Boys 1A State Gathering last spring and wants to bring that experience to some of his daughters.
“The whole experience was something I will never forget,” Sands said. “I was downright giddy buying my first state tournament sweatshirt, and nothing would make me happier than having a closet full of it during my coaching career.”
Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. He can be contacted at [email protected], or on Twitter at @clikasNG.