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Koenen plows through first day of state tournament

St. Charles East's Jasper Koenen returns the ball Thursday during his first round match in the IHSA Boys State Tennis Tournament against Aaron Meyers of Effingham at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.
St. Charles East's Jasper Koenen returns the ball Thursday during his first round match in the IHSA Boys State Tennis Tournament against Aaron Meyers of Effingham at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – St. Charles East junior Jasper Koenen stormed to a 3-0 start as the IHSA Boys Tennis State Tournament opened Thursday.

He simply was following an itinerary.

By breezing to straight-sets wins against foes from Effingham, Taft and Neuqua Valley, Koenen accomplished his goal of advancing to the Round of 16 for the first time. He'll face Chicago University's Conrad Harron at 9 a.m. today at Hersey.

By yielding just two games in the process, Koenen relieved any potential conflict with his evening plans. Also East's student council president, Koenen helped organize a memorial concert for the late Tyler Caruso, an East honors student who died of apparent cardiac arrest in July 2002.

"It's an important event for the school," Koenen said, "and I'm glad to be able to be there."

Koenen was the only entry among eight from Chronicle-area schools to advance to the second day of the championship draw.

Marmion's doubles tandem of Jackon Rettig and and John Graft rebounded from a 6-0, 6-1 opening-round loss to Lake Forest to win its next three matches and move on to the fourth round of the consolation draw.

"We just knew we could come right back," said Rettig, a Sugar Grove resident. "We weren't nervous, so I think it was about continuing to play the way we were. We didn't get upset with ourselves. We just kept playing."

St. Charles North senior singles standout Dominick Amalraj – who was part of North's top doubles team last season – is hoping to turn the same trick. Amalraj lost his first match and won his next two before closing his day with a split-set, 5-7, 6-4 stalemate against Joliet West's Tom Carney.

The match at Hoffman Estates was called on account of darkness. The third set will resume at Wheeling at 8 a.m. today.

"As long as Dom can keep dictating the points and keep dictating the way he wants to play, he should be able to win the third set," North coach Sean Masoncup said.

East senior Justin Bowman saw his decorated career end as the winningest player in program history at 104-27. A Wisconsin-Whitewater commit, Bowman finished his fourth and final state tournament at 2-2.

Waubonsie Valley's Eric Marbach scored a 6-2, 6-0 first-round victory, sending Bowman into the consolation draw. Five days removed from retiring from the Geneva Sectional title match against Koenen due to exhaustion and to save his ailing back, Bowman faced the same thing as the rest of his state-bound brethren – an endurance test.

While the opening day of the state tournament ensures plenty of tennis as the first three rounds are played in both the championship and consolation draws, it's not short on waiting and occasional travel, either.

Then again, many embrace that as part of the state experience. Geneva's doubles team of John Potts and Nick McCarty lost a three-setter in their first-round match, won the next two, then bowed out with a 6-1, 6-2 loss to a pairing from Fenwick.

"That was a very tough team. They kind of took care of us on that one," Vikings coach John Nickelson said. "But the guys worked hard and gave it their best shot. And just to be able to go to state and win a couple rounds at state is quite an achievement. I know they're disappointed that they weren't able to continue, but I think they can hold their heads pretty high for their accomplishment this season."

Geneva's other doubles tandem – sectional champions Ryan Doeckel and Nick Huang – was eliminated with successive losses to start the day.

North's pairing of Grant Spellman and Keith Hedges was eliminated in the second round of the consolation bracket. Ditto for Marmion freshman singles player John King, a Geneva resident who showed well in a 5-7 first set loss against seeded played Sunny Singh of Champaign Centennial.

"Coming into the match, I knew it was going to be rough from the start but I felt like I had nothing to lose," King said. "It was a close first set and I was kind of proud of myself there. It was just a good day today."

Koenen felt fortunate to spend his entire day – before the memorial concert, that is – at Hersey, where he's set to return this morning, plan in tow.

"I'm really determined to go out and win it all this year," Koenen said. "At the beginning of the season, I knew state was really open this year. There's not a clear favorite to win it. So I knew if I pushed myself I could go really far, and that really helped me to get to this point in the season."

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