Closer-to-normal year brings success to girls’ tennis
With a return to a more normal school year, Conant’s girls’ tennis team achieved a successful season and IHSA state tournament.
Having secured a regular season record of 13-5 and finishing fourth at sectionals, the team qualified both varsity doubles teams and one varsity singles player. Conant finished in 22nd place out of 144 schools at state.
Kaitlyn Strilich, ‘25, finished the regular season with a 19-3 record, and won the conference title, setting a new school record as the first freshman in the school’s history to have won the girls’ tennis conference. Strilich tied for 17th place at state.
At the state tournament for doubles hosted at Conant, Riya Jain, ’22, and Nirali Patel, ’22, finished in the top 48, and Jessica Hernandez-Goncalves, ‘22, and Sruthi Sundar, ‘23, finished in the top 64.
Girls’ Tennis Coach Matthew Marks attributes the success of the team to the return of a more typical tennis season and training. “Although COVID restrictions were still in place, a full season and more relaxed restrictions than the past year allowed the team to experience new opportunities,” Marks said. “The longer season allowed the team to travel further to play against new schools and play in more matches.”
Sundar also expressed the excitement of having more playing time this season. “This year we have played a lot more matches with more schools being willing to participate in tournaments and dual matches, which I definitely felt excited about during the season.”
During the 2020-2021 school year, the tennis season was shortened and players had to follow strict COVID precautions, including labeling tennis balls and not sharing them. However, the restrictions were modified this year. “The nature of tennis is socially distanced,” Marks said. While the ritual of shaking hands with the opponent was replaced with air high fives and racket taps, players were allowed to play with no masks, and were required to wear masks only when traveling.
“I thought it was way better than normal now that I had experienced the season through COVID,” Jain said when reflecting on the differences between the last season and this year. “It did feel like a normal school year in terms of the tennis season, so I really liked it a lot better this year.”
Even with a more enjoyable season, the team still faced some challenges. “With a team full of seniors, there were quite a few seniors who had to miss tournaments and matches due to college-related reasons. They came up every now and then, but we were lucky that everyone stayed healthy,” Marks said.
The varsity team was composed almost entirely of seniors, something that leaves some uncertainty for the future of the team after their graduation. “I anticipate a little bit of growing pains,” Marks said.
However, Marks looks forward to the next season with high hopes, especially for the bright future Strilich has on the Conant team. “I’m super excited to see how far she could go and how much she could develop as a player. I can only see her getting better from here on out, and she’s a really good leader to have on a team with eight graduating seniors,” Marks said. “Our next season will be really exciting in terms of the development of our new varsity players.”