ST. CHARLES – It was a day of firsts for Emaira Saini and St. Charles East Saturday.
Saini, a junior, qualified for the state tennis meet as one-half of a doubles team as a freshman and sophomore at St. Charles North. This school year, she transferred to St. Charles East.
On Saturday Saini qualified for state for the first time as a singles player – taking third at the Class 2A St. Charles North Sectional – to lead St. Charles East to its first sectional championship since the district split into two high schools.
“I hope to play well at state and win my first one or two matches,” Saini said.
East's 21 points edged out Glenbard West (20) and Wheaton Warrenville South (18), with Batavia (13) fourth.
“The last time we won a sectional was 1999 for the girls. That would have just been St. Charles high school before there was a split," Saints coach Matt Bulman said. "This is the first one ever in St. Charles East history which is crazy. I’m just so proud of these kids for what they have been able to accomplish."
Saini will be joined at state by the Saints' top doubles team.
Elena Melone and Jamie McDermott have tried for four years as a doubles team to qualify – and finally accomplished that goal this year as seniors with their fourth-place sectional finish. The top four placers advance to the state meet Thursday-Saturday across the northern suburbs.
“It’s really exciting because we’ve been working on this for four years," Melone said. "I remember when we were freshmen and we weren’t even in the sectional lineup and now we beat people we lost to sophomore and junior years."
“Every year we fell short," McDermott said. "It means a lot to put it together this year.”
It was likewise a day of firsts for Batavia's doubles team.
Sophomore Leah Puttin, who teamed up with senior Maddie Durso to take third in doubles, is headed for her first state meet.
“It means a ton to me," Puttin said. "I wouldn’t be here without Maddie.”
It's Durso's second state appearance, first since she was a freshman.
“It means so much to me that I get to go again," Durso said. "It’s a great way to end my last year."
“We’re going to state with some momentum," Batavia coach Brad Nelson said. "We feel like we’ve played some really good doubles teams this year.”
In singles action, Saini won her first two matches in straight sets, lost a semifinal in straight sets then came back to beat Christiana Kapetaneas of West Chicago 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 for third place.
“This match, I was super down in the first set," Saini said. "I really wanted it so I just came back and pushed through whatever it was."
“For Emaira, that was a huge win," Bulman said. "She came out really flat in that first set. She reset herself perfectly in that second set.”
In doubles, Durso and Puttin, 32-3 on the season, of Batavia (32-3) defeated Melone and McDermott of St. Charles East 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in the third-place match.
It was the fourth time the two doubles teams had playead each other this season, with each of the matches closely-contested.
“We lost the first set. We were upset about that, but we just pushed it aside," Durso said. "We knew we could get the second one if we just kept fighting and didn’t give up. We were down 1-4. We just knew if we could get the next two games in a row, it would change the set completely.”