Defending a state championship is not easy, but an essential place to start is on the court.
As obvious as that sounds, it has not been so simple this spring for local tennis players, including those from New Trier.
The Trevians have had at least four cancellations and a number of postponements caused by the season’s cold, rain, snow, wind or all of the above.
“We just have to play some matches quite honestly,” New Trier coach Tad Eckert said. “It’s been difficult to get people ready to play. We’ve had some injuries, sicknesses, and the weather has been a deterrent as well. We just need the consistency of getting in matches against other teams (because) we are pretty sick of playing each other.”
The competition is especially important as the Trevs look to fill in a postseason lineup missing five of six participants from last season’s state-title run.
Behind the singles title of senior Max Bengtsson, New Trier (42 points) won its 22nd state championship in 2021, topping its nemesis Hinsdale Central (35). But from that squad, the Trevs lost Bengtsson, Colin Fox, John Rogers and Jay Wagh to graduation, and Nikita Filin, now a sophomore, is not playing with the team this season.
The lone returner is senior Matthew Plunkett, a Case Western commit who paired with Wagh to claim fourth place in state doubles a year ago.
Eckert said Plunkett is getting a shot at No. 1 singles, while also playing on the doubles side occasionally, as the team reviews all of its options.
“We want to see what he can do against the top players in singles,” Eckert said. “So far he has done pretty well. He’s got a couple nice wins and maybe one or two he wishes he had back.”
On the doubles side, senior Jack Rivkin and junior Will Feely have seen time together in the top slot — though, not as much as Eckert would like. He said the duo is seeded third in the potent Hersey Invitational on Saturday, April 30.
The team also includes a handful of young contributors, and Eckert expects freshmen Stan Okesson and Chris Ackerman to get a shot on the singles side. Junior Alex Bengtsson has chipped in there as well.
The Trevs opened the season March 19 with a 9-7 loss to Hinsdale Central, which has collected nine state championships over the past 14 seasons and, after finishing second to New Trier last year, is the favorite again this season.
Stevenson and Barrington are also in the mix for a state trophy and so are the Trevs, who topped the Patriots, 5-4, in dual competition on April 12.
Eckert said despite the inexperience on the roster, he has kept the Trevs’ high-level schedule.
“We’re taking on all the top teams and singles contender,” he said.
The robust and diverse play is important to get the team ready for postseason competition, Eckert said. That’s why the Trevians also travel out of state to find opponents. On Friday, April 29, they headed to Wisconsin for the second time in a month to battle some of the Midwest’s best.
Seeing different styles of play can only help, he said.
“That’s the fun thing about tennis: Every match is different,” Eckert said. ” … We get to play against different people up (in Wisconsin). Sometimes down here you run into the same people all the time.”
After the Hersey Invite on Saturday, April 30, New Trier takes on some familiar local foes in the Central Suburban League and then heads downstate for the Eugene Hill Invitational in Normal on May 7. The conference tournament is on May 13-14, following by the sectional on May 20-21.