For the first time in head coach John Amaro’s eight-year tenure, the Niles North girls tennis team stayed overnight for a tournament.
The Vikings played against 15 downstate teams on Sept. 6 in the Cyclone Invitational in Springfield.
The Vikings dominated it.
Freshman Michelle Bacalla and sophomores Sabrina Palavra and Ysabel Gonzaga all won titles in the three singles flights (Nos. 1 through 3, respectively). Juniors Jackie Ehrlich and Amy Burke won the No. 2 doubles bracket, and senior Noa Horberg and junior Alexandra Burbules took second in No. 1 doubles. The Vikings were so successful that other schools gawked at the “purple team,” according to Amaro, wondering who they were and where they came from.
“It felt really great to be so good, especially out of 16 teams,” Horberg said.
Among the many highlights, Palavra topped a state qualifier, Mattoon’s Shannon Daniel, 6-3, 6-3 in the finals; Ehrlich and Burke came back from a 3-0 deficit in the first set of their finals match; and Gonzaga shined in her first-round match.
Gonzaga topped Quincy Notre Dame’s Melanie Schlepphorst in her first match 6-4, 6-4 and impressed Amaro. Gonzaga was confident going in, but Schlepphorst could slice the ball and hit drop shots, making the match-up a difficult one. Gonzaga kept her poise and, with Amaro talking to her at every changeover, she prevailed and went on to win the title.
“It felt like a big step for me and a big raise in my confidence,” Gonzaga said. “I usually don’t have that much confidence when I’m playing, but it was a big raise for me.”
Gonzaga’s teammates could get that boost in confidence, too. They only went to three sets in three of their 20 total matches, and they played well against unknown teams with different tennis styles.
“For all the girls to be able to play four matches in one day against competitive schools, it really increases your game,” Amaro said. “It makes your game so much better.”
Along with the tennis, the trip was a bonding experience. The team took two vans to Springfield on Friday, ate at a Steak ’n Shake and stayed at a hotel. After the matches Saturday, the Vikings drove back to Skokie, not returning until 10:30 p.m. Horberg said that this year’s team is close-knit and that there’s “no drama.”
“We’re able to really find fun with each other no matter where we are,” she said. “The fact that we could just go downstate and bond together was really cool. It just turned out really well.”