Stagg juniors Meredith Atkenson and Gabby Petrelli find themselves in a familiar position, that is doubles sectional champions.
The Chargers duo breezed through the doubles draw at Saturday's Sandburg Sectional, never dropping as many as three games in a set and in the process helped Stagg defend its sectional team title. Atkenson and Petrelli (39-3 in doubles the last two years) have now won three straight sectional crowns.
But while the Chargers were powered by all-state singles star Melissa Kopinski the last three seasons, Stagg needed a total team effort to win after Kopinski had chosen to bypass her senior prep campaign.
"It feels really, really, really good," said Atkenson, who helped seal the Chargers' 27-26 team sectional crown after her and Petrelli knocked off Sandburg's top doubles team of Leah Garoufalis and Sarah Czuprynski 6-0, 6-2 in the finals. "It was nerve wracking, and I'm really glad we were able to clinch it this year even without Melissa."
The Chargers needed every point they could get after Chicago Christian went 1-2 in singles play–where sophomore Lexi Chionis defeated classmate and foreign exchange student Julie Michaelis 6-2, 6-3 in the title match. The sectional championship plaque was up in the air while Stagg battled in the doubles finals and the Knights' Carly Smith and Libby Schimpa squared off with Reavis in the third-place match. When the Chargers prevailed in the finals and Chicago Christian came up short in the third-place match, Stagg had another crown.
"This year we didn't have her, but everybody picked up the slack," said Stagg coach Hill Nagrodski, whose team tied for 10th in the state last fall in large part due to Kopinski's fourth-place showing in singles.
Chionis, second to Kopinski at sectionals last year, cruised to the finals with three victories by a combined margin of 36-1. After defeating her teammate in straight sets in the finals, she will now take a 20-1 record into the upcoming state tournament. "I absolutely love my teammate Julie, who's from Belgium," Chionis said. "We've been practicing all year long, so it's funny and ironic that we ended up playing in the finals."
While the singles final was all Knights, the Chargers' Vicky Kulbokas and Raquel Bowen Grant each knocked off higher seeds from Argo on their way to the semis and therefore state berths. Fifth-seeded Kulbokas eventually pulled out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 thriller with her teammate to take claim the third-place medal.
For the Eagles, senior Rachel McKane dropped a tight three-setter with Argo's Claudia Beczarski in the quarterfinals, while Andrea Dunn lost to Stagg's Kulbokas 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. The Eagles were third at the sectional with 16 points.
For Garoufalis and Czuprynski, the runner-up finish in doubles sends them off to state for a third straight year. Czuprynski said her team's grueling 7-6, 7-5 defeat of Reavis in the semis left them a little drained for the final with Stagg.
"It was good competition (in the semis), but we were so relieved that we won," she said. "Then, we were so exhausted in the finals. But Stagg is very good, and they've beaten us in the finals three times now."