As a freshman last October, Naperville Central’s Tiffany Chen, seeded 17-32, wasn’t expected to battle her way into the IHSA girls tennis championship bracket.
Chen surprised a few players and coaches with her fourth-place finish and now heads to Buffalo Grove on Thursday as one of the favorites to win a singles title.
“The wild card in especially girls tennis, because strength isn’t as important, is a freshman can come in and surprise, as Tiffany did last year,” Redhawks coach Don Bonet said. “Now everyone knows who she is, but we still have high hopes. We’d like her to get in that Top 8 and roll the dice at that point.”
If she can get there, anything can happen.
“Realistically, when you get to the top eight players, they’re all really tough,” Bonet said. “We like what Tiffany can do though. She’s gotten stronger, is more consistent and hits with more power, so she’s added to her game, but other girls have added to their games too.”
Those other players include Lyons senior Alex Chatt, who defeated Chen in the third-place match last year.
Naperville Central’s top doubles team of senior Cindy Liu and junior Cass Goldner are making its third trip to state.
“We’ve been working all season to prepare for it,” Liu said. “Our expectations are very high.”
Liu/Goldner are 27-1 this fall.
“They’re very focused and they want to get to Saturday and be able to be in the Top 10 in the state,” Bonet said. “But at that level, it’s very tough. There are some very, very good teams out there and especially in doubles you’ll see more upsets than in singles. In doubles, anything can happen.”
Whatever happens with Naperville Central’s other doubles team, Meaghan Bedigian and Sara Furukawa, happens. The seniors are simply basking in the accomplishment of getting to state.
‘They’re just thrilled to be going,” Bonet said. “Everything else now is sort of gravy no matter what they do. But, for Cindy and Cass, they’re on a mission.”
Senior Leah Tzakis and younger sister Coco Tzakis will represent Benet in the singles competition. For Leah, it’ll be her final chance to compete in high school, while it presents a new opportunity for Coco.
“It’s an interesting dichotomy with Leah playing well and showing a lot of promise and with it being all new for her little sister, Coco,” Redwings coach Mike Hand said.
Hand’s got hopes for both sisters, albeit different ones.
“For Leah, you’d really like to see her play well, to play on Saturday, and to not finish with a bad taste in her mouth,” he said. “For Coco, this can transition into next year.”
Other area state qualifiers include Naperville North’s doubles team of Julia Li and Jessica Hu and Neuqua Valley’s doubles duo of Rita Vohra and Taylor Hersey and singles player, Anusha Pai.
“What you hope for with the girls is that they all play well and if they lose, it is what it is,” Hand said. “At least that way they can feel good with how they played.”
If Chen and Liu/Goldner play well, they could be some of the last players standing on Saturday, which would even satisfy an opposing coach, such as Naperville North’s Heather Henricksen.
“I would love for (Chen) to do as well as last year, if not winning it,” she said. “And (Naperville Central’s) No. 1 doubles team is so fun to watch. Cass Goldner’s athleticism is incredible. I just hope they do well and place.”