Jasper Koenen envisioned a dynamite high school tennis career in St. Charles, just like the way things played out for his big sisters.
But just like his big sisters, Koenen figured he’d be piling up the wins at St. Charles North.
A district boundary change that affected the family’s Campton Hills home was a jarring development for Koenen as a fifth-grader. It meant he’d be attending St. Charles East after years of rooting on sisters Annemijn and Liselot at North.
“I was upset because in middle school, I went to like all the football games for North, I had the North spirit wear and things like that,” Koenen said. “When I heard the news I was going to East, I had always viewed East as the rival school, East was the school you weren’t supposed to like. … But I love East. I love the school, I love the teachers and I love my friends. Looking back, I don’t think it really made too big of a difference on me.”
The same can’t be said for Koenen’s effect on the Saints’ tennis program.
Koenen, the Kane County Chronicle Boys Tennis Player of the Year, turned in a sensational junior season with the Saints, going 33-3 and winning his first five matches at the IHSA State Tournament before finishing in fourth place.
Day 2 of the three-day state tournament was especially memorable for Koenen, a 9-16 seed who pulled a pair of upsets, topping touted contenders Conrad Harron of University High and Peter Tarwid of Lake Forest, both in straight sets.
Barry King, Koenen’s personal coach out of Score Tennis & Fitness in Countryside, said the Friday of the state tennis tournament “might have been the best tennis I’ve seen him play.”
“His play on Friday would have won the tournament, had that been the final day,” King said.
However, for Koenen, there were two more elite players standing in his way May 25. Koenen dropped his final two matches – both to opponents from powerhouse Hinsdale Central – including a three-setter to Michael Lorenzini in the third-place match.
Koenen is a towering presence. At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and apparently still growing, he acknowledged that keeping his legs fresh doesn’t come easy.
“I was missing that energy I had on the first and second day,” Koenen said. “That’s something I need to work on, conserving that energy, getting that endurance and also my serve. I’d say those are two main goals I’m working on this summer.”
While Koenen still is tinkering with his serve, he’s already adept at sending his opponents’ serves back in resounding fashion. Along with his heavy, flat groundstrokes, Koenen’s return of serve is among his most impressive attributes.
“His return of serve is the best I’ve seen in junior tennis for a long, long time,” King said. “He just had great hands, great eyes – he can rip it. His return of serve is definitely a huge, huge thing.”
About the only accolade missing from Koenen’s junior season was conference champion – with good reason. That weekend, Koenen and doubles partner Davis Crocker of Kalamazoo, Mich., won the doubles championship at the USTA National Open 18s in Grand Rapids. Mich.
King called Koenen “an unbelievably great doubles player,” which figures to enhance Koenen’s value as he explores college tennis options this summer.
“Conference is a tough one to miss, too, but this tournament was a tough one to miss, too, especially with college coaches watching, and going into summer, that was a big tournament to play,” Koenen said.
Like big sisters Annemijn (who played collegiately at Arkansas and Missouri) and Liselot (currently playing at Houston), Koenen was born in Belgium, but is of Dutch nationality. The family lived in Louisiana when they first came to the U.S. but moved to St. Charles in 2006.
Annemijn and Liselot starred for the North Stars, including teaming for a sixth-place state doubles finish in 2008. They teased their little brother about one-upping them with his fourth-place singles showing this spring, but Koenen said the family pride was evident.
Koenen also was grateful for the season-long support of fellow Saints state qualifier Justin Bowman, a senior who played No. 2 singles for East.
“Having a player like that on our team that can really play 1 at any other school, to have Justin on the team, we pushed each other in practice,” Koenen said. “That’s something I’m really going to miss next year, to have that 1-2 duo we were at East.”
At East. He would have never suspected it when donning his North garb, but it rolls off the tongue.