For the first time in approximately 30 years, the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls tennis team won’t be hosting a sectional.

Instead, the Huskies are headed east to St. Ignatius where they will mix it up with the host Wolfpack and other solid Chicago teams like Whitney Young, Kenwood and Lincoln Park. Area schools like Morton, Proviso East and Riverside-Brookfield will also compete in the nine-team field.

“I don’t know what the thinking was [on sectional assignments], but I think it’s because we are near a lot of teams aggregated in the city,” OPRF coach Fred Galluzzo said. “The only sectional in the west suburbs is Lyons Township which includes most of the teams in our conference.

“The reality is our sectional will be difficult with a brutal singles draw and tough doubles. I think we have a good chance of qualifying our doubles teams and an outside shot at qualifying singles for the state tournament.”

The change in sectional venue coincides with changes on the Huskies’ roster. OPRF only has four seniors this season. The roster is littered with promising but inexperienced sophomores and juniors.

“I don’t see any reason why these kids don’t break out and become solid players,” Galluzzo said. “The thing that’s been holding us back is a lack of tournament play. Kids need to be playing in at least four or five tournaments per year. That’s how they truly grow as tennis players during the competitive atmosphere and pressure points of tournaments.”

Juniors Hannah Keidan and Grace Medina, plus sophomores Andrea Krunic (No. 1 singles), Emma Proctor (No. 2 singles), Sophia Kreider, Jane Belcaster and Emma Proctor have all figured prominently into the lineup this fall. Keidan and Kreider are the No. 2 doubles team and Belcaster and Medina play at third doubles.

Injuries to juniors Alyssa Mandel (out for the season), Maggie Kosterman and Carleigh Schafer have hurt the team’s depth.

Amid the ups and downs of any season, the top doubles team of Julia Krause and Maria Krunic has stabilized the front end of the lineup.

“We’re practicing hard and trying to improve as a team,” Krause said. “We’re in such a good conference that you’re going to win and lose some matches.

“The bottom line for us is working as hard as we can to make each other better with positivity, teamwork and bonding.”

Fenwick girls tennis

Although it’s typically an adjustment when you lose an All-State player like Laura Gutierrez (now playing tennis at the University of Chicago), the Friars have adjusted well to life sans-Gutierrez this fall.

Fenwick is 8-2 overall and 4-1 in the GCAC Red. More importantly, several players have embraced a leadership role.

“You hate to lose a player like Laura who was on another level as a player,” Fenwick coach Gerard Sullivan said. “On the other hand, we have different leaders who are a bit more in synch with the team. Ceci Walsh, Corinne Joss and Meg Whalen are good leaders. They are a little edgier and can fire people up. This group has good chemistry.”

The Friars have talent as well.

No. 1 singles player Haley Fakouri is ranked in the top 40 among 16-year-olds in the Chicago area.

“Haley wants to be at first singles,” Sullivan said. “She has run into some really tough opponents, but she’s a very talented player who’s working hard and improving.”

No. 2 singles Anna Hendricks is athletic and plays well under pressure.

The doubles teams are versatile and deep. Walsh, a senior, and sophomore Bella Burdi are excellent ball-strikers, armed with heavy topspin on their groundstrokes.

“Ceci anchors our No. 1 doubles team and she’s playing as well as ever,” Sullivan said. “She can place the ball on a dime anywhere on the court and Bella is so athletic.”

At second doubles, Joss and junior Maria Krug have won 13 of 14 matches.

The junior pair of Gabrielle Cone and Brooke LePore is perhaps the most intriguing tandem.

“Brooke is a lefty who has the hardest serve on the team and she’s a beast at the net,” Sullivan said. “Gabrielle is also a strong and physical player. I think they have a really good shot to win third doubles at the conference tournament.”

No. 4 doubles Shannon Hayes and Whalen won their flight at the Fremd Invitational.

“Our goal is to hang onto the second spot in conference and try to make things closer with [frontrunner Loyola Academy],” Sullivan said. “We have to see what the sectional looks like, but we’re excited.”

Fenwick landed in the Timothy Christian Sectional in Class A. The 10-team field also includes area teams Trinity and Nazareth.

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...