The start of season was less than encouraging for Lincoln-Way East coach Chris Olson.
From the Griffins’ singles players to the doubles teams, the record wasn’t quite there.
But from a midseason turnaround heading into the postseason, Lincoln-Way East appears to be getting hot at the right time.
Hosting the SouthWest Suburban Red tournament, Lincoln-Way East piled up 34 points to defeat rival Lincoln-Way North (27 points) to claim the conference championship.
It was the second straight championship for East, which switched to the Red from the Blue in the 2013-14 season.
“Our record wasn’t pretty early, and we struggled at times trying to hang with the best teams,” Olson said. “We play one of the toughest schedules in the southwest suburbs, and that builds a lot of mental toughness. On a day like this, that’s what keeps you in the match.”
East’s Caroline Kilrea won No. 3 singles, defeating Lincoln-Way North’s Stephanie Finch 6-3, 6-2, to lead the singles contingent.
The Griffins’ strength, though, was on the doubles side. At No. 2 doubles, top-seeded Natalie Gevaudan and Jade Christensen beat Lincoln-Way North’s Jill Allen and Abbey Peterson 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. The No. 3 doubles team, Quinn Madden and Anna Power won 6-1, 6-1 against Lincoln-Way North’s Nicole Collopy and Beth Collins.
Last but not least, the No. 4 team, Maura Kenny and Natalie McCray, beat Andrew’s Meg Carey and Emily Cavaretta 6-1, 7-5.
“We’ve been a doubles-heavy team all year, and we have grown as a doubles unit all year,” Olson said. “We started the season as laidback, passive doubles players. Today we saw lots of aggression, lots of attacking. As a coach, that’s a thing of beauty.”
Leading the second-place Phoenix was junior Meg Witt, who won 6-3, 6-2 over East’s Nina Heidkamp.
“I woke up today and was just so scared and feeling sick to my stomach,” Witt said. “The fact that I won, I’m so happy. Just overjoyed.”
At No. 2 singles, North’s Makenzie Helsel, a three-seed, defeated top-seeded Ravina Vasanwala of Bradley 6-4, 6-4.
Paired as a team weeks into the season, Lincoln-Way Central seniors Claire Hilgenbrink and Teagan Duvall continued their hot play, beating Lincoln-Way East’s Rachel Alexander and Kayla Reda in comeback fashion, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
“We started attacking the net more and using more volleys,” Duvall said. “It’s been hard adjusting since we joined, but this shows we can accomplish anything working together well.”
Hilgenbrink has played No. 1 doubles all season, but Duvall jumped up from No. 4 doubles.
“It’s a great accomplishment, winning conference,” Hilgenbrink said. “Teagan jumped up and really stepped up her game. We just click together.”
Rounding out the team standings, Andrew (16 points) finished third ahead of Lincoln-Way Central (4th, 14), Bradley (5th, 10), Lincoln-Way West (6th, 4) and Thornwood (7th, 0).