State meet a different experience for Lake Forest tennis

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Lake Forest girls tennis coach Denise Murphy found herself in an unusual state of mind at this year’s state tournament.

Instead of being pulled and pushed in different directions, Murphy felt relaxed.

“It was slow motion for me. I was able to enjoy the moment,” Murphy said.

That had a lot to do with the skeleton crew representing the Scouts. For the first time since 2006, Lake Forest did not win a team sectional championship. Only individual qualifiers participated in the state tournament. The Scouts sent one singles player, senior Colleen Morris, and the doubles team of juniors Zoe Park and Brynn Carlson.

Relieved of the logistical responsibilities that come with a team berth at state, Murphy — who coached Lake Forest to three state titles between 2010-13 — had downtime.

“It was different not being in the running, the speed and chaos of coaching [a team],” she said. “It allowed me to spend more time with Colleen and to dial in and be more present for her.”

Morris is no stranger to elite competition. As a junior in 2013, she teamed with doubles partner Victoria Falk to earn a third-place medal at state. Doubles is how Morris started this season, in a pairing with senior Margaux Miller.

But after an early October injury to No. 1 singles player Laurel Tesar, Murphy asked Morris if she could take the open spot.

“Some players might say, ‘Are you kidding me? I haven’t played [singles] my whole career and now you want me to play?’ ” Murphy said. “She said, ‘Coach, what do you need me to do? Whatever you need.’ ”

Morris performed well. A fifth-place finish at the North Suburban Conference tournament boosted her confidence. Three wins at the Highland Park Sectional qualified her for the state tournament.

Morris easily won her opening match without dropping a game. She lost her second-round match, 6-2, 6-3 to Rock Island’s Nicole Tyulpa, falling into the back draw. Morris won her first consolation match before opening Friday against Julie Martin of Morton.

“[Martin’s] a fabulous player, an athlete who covers the court and makes you work for everything,” Murphy said.

Taking advice from her coach, Morris did not overreach, stayed patient to eventually outlasted Martin in three sets, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. In the next back-draw match, Morris lost a tough first-set tiebreaker before losing 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 to Nina Bertino of Joliet Catholic.

On the doubles side, Park and Carlson won three matches in the front draw before losing their next two.

As a team, the Scouts finished in 22nd place, earning 10 points. It was Lake Forest’s lowest finish since 1996, when it ended up in a three-way tie for 30th.

But Murphy made sure her enjoyment of this season’s state tournament wasn’t tied to her program’s ability to compete for a championship.

“Because of the lack of hype, it made me more aware of my peers and the friendships made as a direct result of coaching,” Murphy said. “It’s just as important is that my players were able to reach their full potential, represent the community and have fun in the process.”

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