Freshman Christina Stankovic leads Neuqua Valley to West Aurora Sectional title

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It was a little over a year ago when Christina Stankovic moved from Toronto with her family to Naperville.

Her older brother remained in Canada.

Fortunately the tennis racquet came along.

“Moving was hard at first, but I always had tennis,” Stankovic said. “It kept my mind off things.”

Canada’s loss is Neuqua Valley’s gain.

Stankovic, now a precocious freshman, defeated teammate Anusha Pai in the singles final at Saturday’s West Aurora Sectional as part of a Neuqua Valley team championship.

Neuqua, moved from the Naperville Sectional to Aurora for the first time in 17 years, won its first team title since 2008 — and did so in dominating fashion. The Wildcats placed both semifinalists in both the singles and doubles brackets and nearly doubled runner-up Oswego East in the point total.

“I feel so lucky — we have a great coaching staff and really great kids,” said Neuqua coach Trudy Bennorth, who has four state-qualifying entries for the first time in the history of the girls program. “It’s been a fantastic year.”

The top four placers in the singles and doubles divisions all advanced to the state tournament that starts Thursday.

Stankovic survived a three-set match with Oswego East junior Jaiere Harlow in the semifinals, then defeated Pai 6-1, 6-0 in the finals.

“We practice all the time so we know each other’s game really well,” Stankovic said. “It’s always fun because it’s not as competitive. Whoever wins, our school wins.”

It is the third time Pai has qualified for state. Stankovic, obviously, is making her first state trip — but she’s no stranger to elite competition. Stankovic was ranked 17th in the Ontario Tennis Association under 14 rankings when she moved.

“Really excited to go to state,” Stankovic said. “I hear it’s a lot of fun.”

In the doubles final the Neuqua senior/sophomore pair of Taylor Hershey and Jessica Chen beat the Wildcats No. 2 team of Shruthi Sethuraman and Megan Dart 6-2, 6-3. Hershey is a returning state qualifier, but with a new partner in Chen — who played No. 3 singles last year.

“Last year was totally different. We were just hoping to qualify,” Hershey said. “I think we’re going to do really well at state.”

Hershey admitted it wasn’t easy to see a teammate across the net in the doubles final.

“You have to picture somebody else there,” she said, “but I thought we did well.”

Harlow bounced back from the three-set loss to Stankovic to beat Waubonsie Valley senior Susanna Rantanen in the singles third-place match.

“It was a different match so anything could happen,” said Harlow, a three-time state qualifier. “I just played my game.”

In the doubles third-place match Rosary’s senior duo of Megan Conlin and Maddy Deufel outlasted Waubonsie’s all-sophomore group of Abbey Glavin and Serena Zhu 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Conlin, a returning state qualifier, and Deufel had less than a half-dozen matches under their belt together before sectionals, but the pairing clicked.

“She has a rocket forehand and I have a good backhand,” Conlin said. “We’ve come together pretty good.”

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