HOFFMAN ESTATES – Obstacles came in the traditional form – elite opposition – and the not-so-traditional, such as missing parents and slipping spectacles.
Area qualifiers in the IHSA boys tennis state tournament generally handled whatever was thrown at them with aplomb Thursday during the first day of the tournament, though only St. Charles East singles standout Jasper Koenen remains in the championship bracket entering today's second day of competition.
Koenen said he had several "acting moms" helping cheer him on Thursday as his mother, Irene, and fresh-off-knee-surgery father, Henk-Jan, dealt with a hectic day, arriving only for part of his third match.
In their place, a handful of surrogates tended to Koenen's well-being, including veteran East girls tennis coach Sena Drawer and the mother of former East standout Justin Bowman.
"It was nice," Koenen said. "It's sometimes weird not seeing [my parents] but I guess it's getting ready for next year. They won't be able to make every, single Michigan State match, so I've got to kind of make that transition to just having a coach, teammates and other fans than just always having your parents. But I'm definitely going to miss them."
Koenen's parents didn't miss much in the drama department. The burly senior improved to 31-0 on the season with a trio of straight-set victories. Koenen, coming off a fourth-place state finish as a junior, has yet to drop a set this season.
"This is exactly how I envisioned my day going," Koenen said after breezing through York's Brendan Peterson, Loyola Academy's Peter Horne and Metamora's Mitchell Nguyen on a pleasant, sunny day. "Three quality opponents to get ready for [Friday]."
Koenen will resume play this morning against Edwardsville's Brandon Harris, who also notched three straight-set wins Thursday.
Also advancing to the second day – albeit in consolation play – are area doubles teams Grant Spellman and Aaron Amburgey (St. Charles North), Ryan Sterling and Adam Maris (Batavia) and Ryan Doeckel and John Potts (Geneva).
As if facing rugged state competition weren't enough to battle, Spellman also dealt with a pair of glasses that no longer fit as snuggly as they used to. He considered the slipping spectacles only a minor annoyance.
"I've always liked them but they're reaching the end of their life," Spellman said. "Maybe I'll find a nice little spot on the shelf for them, remember them fondly, and get some new ones."
Spellman and Amburgey beat opponents from Benet and Peoria Richwoods in straight sets before running into the No. 1 doubles seed in the tournament, falling to Hinsdale Central's Lope Adelakun and Chase Hamilton, 6-2, 6-0.
"They played really solid. Very consistent. They predicted our shots really well," Amburgey said. "I guess if we had to play them again, we would probably try to mix it up a little bit more, but they just played traditional tennis really well. That's why they're the best."
Spellman and Amburgey had a strong rivalry this spring with Batavia's Sterling and Maris. The North pair won the regular season match before Batavia's tandem avenged the loss in the conference tournament, leaving Bulldogs coach Brad Nelson somewhat miffed that Spellman and Amburgey entered the state tournament seeded while Maris and Sterling were not.
Coming in unseeded was "definitely a motivating factor" for Maris and Sterling, Nelson said, and the two took it out on first-round opponents David Dobrik and Nikita Lunkov of Vernon Hills, who like Spellman and Amburgey, were a 16-32 seed. Maris and Sterling won the match, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0, then took another three-setter in the second round over a team from Lockport before falling to Edwardsville's Jack Desse and Logan Ware in the third round, 6-4, 6-2.
"They weren't intimidated at all," Nelson said of playing the Edwardsville team, a 3-4 seed in the doubles draw. "They just got off to a slow start. I think that first time here for both of them, I think they were a little nervous at first, but once they settled down, they played great."
The Vikings' Doeckel and Potts opened their day with a three-set win against a team from O'Fallon before losing in the second round, 6-3, 6-1, to Hinsdale South's Greg Murray and Rohan Chinwalla. They kept their season alive with a pair of straight-set, consolation wins against teams from Andrew and York.
Another Geneva resident – Marmion sophomore John King – also saw success in the consolation draw, rebounding from his first-round loss to Stevenson's Benjamin Bush by beating opponents from Antioch and Crystal Lake Central.
King then was ousted by Alton's Allan Bower, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5, in the third round of consolation, but his two victories on the day were one more than he notched when he qualified for the state tournament last year as a freshman.
"It's a real bummer when you get bumped out of the main draw, but consolations, there are really good players down there," King said. "You've just got to appreciate it and win as many as you can."
King needed to break serve late in the second set to stay alive in his win against Crystal Lake Central's Josh Pudlo. King took the third set, 6-4, after Pudlo required an extended medical break for cramping with the score tied 2-all.
"It's always good to stay alive in this tournament," King said. "It is the Illinois state tournament, so it's always good to just advance and improve your ranking and just keep on going."
Like King, Wheaton Academy singles qualifier Chris Jones and St. Charles East doubles entry George Spoerl and Alex Winters both went 2-2 for the day.
Singles qualifiers Nick Huang (Geneva) and Nick Kovach (St. Francis) dropped their first two matches.