Boys Tennis: Hubs take home historic Interstate 8 tournament crown

The Rochelle Hub varsity tennis team won the Interstate 8 Conference Championship tournament on Saturday. It's Rochelle's first conference tournament title in boys tennis since 1949. (Courtesy photo)

Rochelle netters win first conference tournament since 1949

OTTAWA — Junior Jimmy Chavez was one of the final players on the court Saturday afternoon, when the Rochelle Hub varsity tennis team traveled for the Interstate 8 Conference tournament looking to achieve a feat that no team at Rochelle Township High School had done since 1949.

With four schools in the running for the tournament title, Chavez had an opportunity to clinch the trophy for the Hubs during his third-place match against Sycamore’s Regan Ni at No. 2 singles. Having split the first two sets with his opponent, Chavez needed a third-set victory to secure a top-3 finish in his bracket and more importantly, the tournament championship for his team.

“I knew that our seniors from last season would want this and I knew that our seniors this season wanted this,” Chavez said. “If we wanted to be history makers, we had to win this and that’s what motivated me to go out there and play my hardest. I wanted it more than the other player. I had so much energy going into the third set and I knew I had to take advantage of that.”

Playing with confidence and determination, Chavez dominated the third set against Ni, ultimately winning the match 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 to take third in the No. 2 singles bracket and secure Rochelle’s first conference tournament title in 74 years. The Hubs finished with 23 points in the tournament to edge out runner-up finisher Ottawa, who scored 22 points in the meet after narrowly defeating Rochelle to take home the conference tournament at RTHS last season.

“When I came back and told my teammates, they lifted me up and threw me in the air,” Chavez said. “We’re all confident and we know that we can beat whoever’s standing across from us. We’re confident in our abilities and we’re confident in what we’ve learned this season.”

Seniors David Wanner and Owen Haas returned as the defending champions at No. 1 doubles and successfully repeated as champions this season. The duo started the day with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Sycamore’s Liam Kerbel and Jonathan Locascio before outlasting Ottawa’s Adam Gross and Noah Gross 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinal round. Wanner and Haas secured the crown with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Morris netters Connor Ahearn and Mason Kitchell in the finals.

“It’s certainly exciting and it’s a relief because we had a chance to win the conference last season and that didn’t happen,” Wanner said. “We came back with a chip on our shoulder and we got it done, which was really exciting. Owen and I came in playing our game and we weren’t nervous. We didn’t have any expectations, we were focused on just playing our game and seeing what happens. Owen and I feel very confident and we’ve built up a lot of momentum.”

Seniors John Green and Nolan Fonfara also brought home a conference title for the Hubs, winning the No. 2 doubles bracket with two consecutive wins. The Rochelle combo knocked off LaSalle-Peru’s Jon Milota and Michael Milota 6-3, 6-2 before taking down Sycamore’s Alex Jenkin and Josh Plagakis 6-4, 6-0 in the finals to score five more team points for the Hubs.

“It means a lot to us that we were able to come together and fight through some struggles early in the season,” Green said. “I think Nolan and I’s friendship outside of tennis has helped us a lot. We’re all really close and we support each other. Staying positive always helps us find ways to win. We’re feeling pretty confident and everybody’s hitting the ball well and having a good time.”

Senior Paul Swartz and freshman Mark Green finished second in the No. 3 doubles bracket with a 2-1 record, reaching the final round after notching a 6-1, 6-2 win over Kaneland’s Alan Tapia and Lucas Johnson as well as a 6-2, 6-4 win over Sycamore’s Joe Cullota and Jacob Plagakis. Chavez went 2-1 over three matches to take third at No. 2 singles, opening the tournament with a 6-0, 6-4 win against Kaneland’s A.J. Faruga prior to his three-set win against Regan Ni.

Junior Parker Lenkaitis placed fifth in the No. 1 singles bracket, dropping two matches but finishing the tournament strong with a 6-3, 6-7(6), 10-6 victory against Kaneland’s Matt Managus. The Hubs (12-6, 1-4 Interstate 8) will host the IHSA 1A Rochelle Sectional, which begins on Friday, May 19 before concluding on Saturday, May 20 at RTHS.