ST. CHARLES – Kaneland's No. 1 doubles tandem of Jelly Emmanouil and Madi Jurcenko went through the teeth of the Tri-Cities tennis scene on Saturday and came out unscathed.
The unbeaten sophomores highlighted their unbeaten season with straight-set wins against teams from Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North as part of a meet intended to expose teams to their St. Charles East Sectional competition.
"St. Charles, both of them, and Geneva are really big schools, and they're known for their good tennis," Jurcenko said. "To beat them all just shows that we can really do well at sectionals and hopefully make it to state and do well there. It definitely is a confidence-booster because it just shows that you can play with the best of them."
Emmanouil and Jurcenko (27-0) and the rest of the Knights hopped around from Geneva to St. Charles East to St. Charles North, where they capped their day against the North Stars. Emmanouil and Jurcenko were tied in the first set, 5-all, against North's Faith Oehlerking and Ashley Randazzo but won the last two games for a 7-5 triumph before taking the second set, 6-3.
Emmanouil and Jurcenko are in their first season as partners after Emmanouil sparkled at No. 2 singles last fall, playing behind another gifted classmate – Sammie Schrepferman. Emmanouil said she is having an even better time this season in doubles.
"You have somebody to play with, somebody supporting you and motivating you if you miss a shot," Emmanouil said. "It's a lot more fun."
Jurcenko said she's not worried the tandem's success on Saturday will rile up the competition for the postseason.
"Everybody comes wanting to win," Jurcenko said. "And no matter how much you want to win, it's going to be based off skill. I think we'll be OK."
Schrepferman, meanwhile, went 2-1 Saturday at No. 1 singles, falling to Geneva standout Kirby Einck. It was just Schrepferman's second loss of the season.
Kaneland coach Tim Larsen said crisp starts to the point are essential in a match between players of the caliber of Einck and Schrepferman.
"It's a race to get in charge of the point," Larsen said. "When you have two singles players that have that good of a baseline shot, whoever can get in charge of the point and start commanding where the ball is going to go is going to win and, unfortunately for today, Kirby did it more often than we did."
From a team standpoint, Kaneland beat Geneva, 6-2, lost to St. Charles East, 5-3 and tied North, 4-all.
"As a coach I've never beaten [Geneva] as a team, so it's a big boost for the program," Larsen said.
North defeated Bartlett, 5-3, but fell to Wheaton Academy, 5-3, in its other dual meet.
The day was considered crucial for sectional seeding, which is why North coach Eve Tubman was especially disappointed that North's top postseason threat – Oehlerking and Randazzo – went 0-3 at No. 1 doubles.
"It just goes to show what 1 doubles in the sectional is right now," Tubman said. "It's pretty tough because those girls are no slouches."
North's No. 2 doubles team of junior Kaity Wolfe and senior Alex Duncan went 3-0 on the day, including a three-set, tiebreaker win against Kaneland in the last match to conclude, earning North its tie against the Knights.
This is the first year participants in the sectional have met late in the regular season for a sneak peek at what awaits after conference meets take place next weekend.
"There are too many outstanding players to go to the state tournament, which is unfortunate, in that one sectional," Larsen said. "I wish that we could spread those players out a bit so we could meet in the state tournament instead of the sectional tournament."