MAPLE PARK – The IHSA girls tennis state tournament begins Oct. 24, and Kaneland juniors Sammie Schrepferman, Madi Jurcenko and Jelly Emmanouil intend to be factors there, as was the case last season.
Perhaps the toughest task between now and then for the Knights’ talented trio is to keep focused on the present.
Schrepferman, Kaneland’s No. 1 singles player, and Emmanouil and Jurcenko, the Knights’ top doubles tandem, seemingly left themselves little room for regular-season improvement after dominant sophomore seasons in the same roles.
“Our No. 1 doubles team, I think they went 31-0 last season in the regular season before they got into the sectional tournament – it is hard to improve on that,” Kaneland coach Tim Larsen said. “But I think one of the things we’re looking at is to make sure that every, single match that we play, we’re looking at shot selection, we’re looking at how crisp the volleys are in the net. There’s constantly room to improve, even if their record can’t improve very much.”
Emmanouil and Jurcenko went 38-3 last season, setting a school record for most wins in a season in their first year as a doubles pairing. They advanced to the sixth round of the consolation bracket at the state tournament.
This year, a top-8 state finish is a primary goal, but Jurcenko said they intend to remain focused during the regular season to guard against a slip-up.
“Every match is a mystery because a school could have two new freshmen coming in who’ve played tennis all their lives like we did, and they never have had a strong program before,” Jurcenko said. “That’s kind of exactly like our story. Our school didn’t really have a strong program, then we came in and no one knew what to expect. So with every match, we really just have to keep an open mind.”
Kaneland opened its season Monday against West Chicago, and Emmanouil and Jurcenko prevailed, 6-0, 6-0.
Larsen senses that the tandem is prepared to play even sharper tennis this season.
“They’re juniors now, they’re actual upperclassmen, so they’re hitting the ball a little harder than they were last year,” Larsen said. “Where last year they had to sort of make up for that with playing smart tennis, they can get a little more aggressive this year and push the issue a little bit earlier in the points. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
On the singles side, Schrepferman was nearly as untouchable as Emmanouil and Jurcenko last year, rolling to a 30-win season.
Schrepferman, the lone Kaneland singles player to ever qualify for the state tournament, is looking for much of her progress this fall to come on the mental side.
“During the offseason, I definitely worked on my attitude and my emotions,” Schrepferman said. “I think that was one of the reasons people brought me up as captain this year, too. I just showed that I’m here to play tennis, that’s what I focus on, and nothing else.”
Schrepferman was winless at the state tournament, and said her goal is to place among the top 32 if she’s able to qualify again.
She spent much of her summer playing and coaching tennis for a combined eight hours a day in the Bartlett area. Mentoring youth players was invigorating, she said.
“I liked to see those little kids just learning how to play tennis and enjoy it as much as I do,” Schrepferman said.
Players to watch
Sarah Church, St. Charles East, Sr.
Church is poised to ascend to the No. 1 singles spot for the Saints. "It looks like she worked really hard [in the offseason]," East coach Sena Drawer said. "She's really developing more strategy. Her skill level's always been really good."
Kirby Einck, Geneva, Jr.
Einck, arguably the premier singles player in the area, looks to go 3-for-3 on earning state tournament berths this fall.
Margo Hess, Geneva Sr.
Hess projects to play No. 1 doubles for the Vikings, though her partner could be up in the air for a while. Junior Emma Hazel – switching from singles to doubles – is a possibility.
Ava Kolman, St. Francis, Jr.
Kolman sits atop the Spartans' singles lineup after a tournament-intensive summer. She is part of a strong Spartans junior class that includes top doubles pairing Anne Marie Jagielo and Alexis Langley.
Sammie Schrepferman, Kaneland, Jr.
Schrepferman is eager to build on her 30-7 sophomore season, and is hopeful of giving Sycamore standout Angelina Ye a tougher battle for Northern Illinois Big 12 supremacy.
Kaity Wolfe, St. Charles North, Sr.
The North Stars' lone four-year starter, Wolfe will play a "vital role" for North, coach Eve Tubman says, with Micaela Masha and Emma Spellman also among the team's leaders.
Amelia Cogan (Jr.)-Jennifer Mizikar (Sr.), Batavia
Mizikar is 21 wins away from catching Hannah Potter (115-30) as the program's winningest player. She and Cogan went 32-7 and finished top-32 at the state tournament last year.
Betsy Jones (Sr.)-Lexi Welton (Sr.), Wheaton Academy
Defending Suburban Christian Conference and sectional doubles champions should be formidable as Welton pursues a fourth state tournament berth.
Madi Jurcenko (Jr.)-Jelly Emmanouil (Jr.), Kaneland
The only all-state tennis players in program history, the girls hope a deeper understanding of doubles strategy and one another's games will make them all the more formidable in their second year as partners.
Haydyn Jones (Sr.)-Kelsie Roberton (Sr.), St. Charles East
East's top doubles tandem looks to build on state-qualifying junior seasons, though they might mix-and-match partners at times with the Huskisson twins, Alexa and Carly.
Teams to watch
Batavia's program is in such strong shape, the Bulldogs are able to withstand the loss of singles standout Liza Fruendt (focusing on basketball) and still have a reasonable shot at what would be their fourth straight UEC River title. In addition to their stalwart No. 1 doubles pairing, Nora McClure and Annie Maren will pace the singles lineup, while athletic freshmen Maddie Rea and Julianne Robinson should contribute in doubles.
The top of the Knights' lineup is proven with Sammie Schrepferman at No. 1 singles and Madi Jurcenko and Jelly Emmanouil at No. 1 doubles. Knights coach Tim Larsen considers the development of the rest of a loaded junior class – including returnees Colleen Landers and Stephanie Karolewicz – to be a major key to Kaneland's season.
St. Charles East
Doubles prowess looks to be the strongsuit for the Saints, with Haydyn Jones and Kelsie Roberton and twins Alexa and Carly Huskisson likely to share partners as coach Sena Drawer seeks two seeded teams for sectionals. Jamie Youngberg and Emmy Russell look like a solid No. 3 doubles pairing, while Sarah Church (No. 1) and Jackie Spoerl (No. 2) should keep East's singles play competitive as others vie for the third spot.