Girls Tennis: Neuqua Valley wins 12th straight UEC title

Neuqua Valley’s girls tennis team won its 12th consecutive conference title Saturday, taking the Upstate Eight Valley at Bartlett handily.

Celebrating those crowns never gets tiresome for coach Trudy Bennorth.

“It never gets old,” Bennorth said. “It’s wonderful. Every year, it gets better and better. I was really proud of them. We wanted it again. We’ve been practicing hard. I thought they gave it a really good collective effort.”

Playing in windy conditions with the coldest temperatures of the season, Neuqua won the title in five of the seven brackets to build on its already formidable lead heading into the meet. The Wildcats held a six-point lead on Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley coming in. Metea pulled away from Waubonsie with a pair of conference titles Saturday to take second on the season.

Neuqua tinkered with its doubles lineups early in the season, but found the right combinations as the season went on. The result was the Wildcats reaching the finals in all four doubles brackets, winning three titles.

“We’ve been working really, really hard on doubles the last few weeks,” Bennorth said. “It’s changed since the beginning of the year. It takes a while until you find the right combos.”

Katie Beshilas and Akshita Pillai won No. 3 doubles while Haley Walton and Allie Pastine took the title at No. 4 doubles. But the big win came from senior Christine Zhang and sophomore Taylor Hershey at No. 1 doubles. The duo fell to Bartlett’s Gabby Gregorio and Jitsupa Sirinit during the regular season, and lost in a tiebreaker in the first set Saturday. But Zhang and Hershey recovered to win the final two sets, 6-2, 6-3, to win the title.

“It really proves our partnership,” Hershey said. “No matter what happens, we can always get it back and do well and come out with the win.”

Neuqua’s two singles titles came at the expense of Waubonsie Valley players. Jen Cha beat Nadia Gonzalez, 6-1, 6-0, at No. 2 singles and Amy McNeel beat Nithya Sridhar, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) at No. 3 singles in the last match of the meet.

Metea broke its tie for second coming into the meet with Waubonsie on the strength of two titles. Kaitlyn Hammerly and Tyler Proszowski beat Neuqua’s Leah Keating and Alicia Skwarek, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, at No. 2 doubles.

Senior Kelsey Chin then finished off her conference career at No. 1 singles in style with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Bartlett’s Jen Gates. Chin lost to Gates during the regular season and the conference meet as a junior. This year, however, Chin turned the tables and beat her both times. Chin has lost only twice all season and was unbeaten in conference play.

“I’ve been training pretty hard and working hard on my game,” Chin said. “Things are starting to click. It’s definitely a good thing. Coming here and ending the high school season as the conference champion is a good way to go into sectionals this year.”

The rest of the conference standings finished the same way they entered the conference meet, with Bartlett in fourth followed by South Elgin, Lake Park and East Aurora.

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