Casati, Kiven, Kirsch: Players of the Year
Deerfield's Alexis Casati: Pioneer Press Lake Shore Singles Player of the Year. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 18, 2011 10:36AM
A fighting spirit carried Alexis Casati to great heights in 2011.
The Deerfield High School tennis player, a junior, placed fifth in singles during the IHSA state tournament. Casati, who finished 27-1, has been named Pioneer Press Lake Shore Singles Player of the Year.
A prime example of her Warrior spirit came during the fifth-place match, when Casati edged Grayslake North senior Kelly Poggensee-Wei 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
“She goes into each match thinking she can win,” said Deerfield coach Rich Koukol. “Elite players, like Alexis, have to think that way. She’s always been a good athlete — and a hard worker and a fighter.”
Casati hurt the opposition with a relentless forehand.
“Her forehand is one of the best forehands in the state,” Koukol said. “Her forehand is her weapon, and she does not hold back.”
The star player does not sit back and take her talent for granted. Instead, she’s always working to hone her game.
“She spends hours and hours outside of practice working on her game,” Koukol said. “That level of commitment made a big difference in her game.”
All of that court time also turned Casati into one of the fittest players in the state.
“Her strokes obviously improved (from 2010),” Koukol said. “But one thing that made a huge difference was her endurance. She saw (last season) that endurance is so important, especially in a state meet when you can play tons of matches on a given day.”
Casati’s fighting spirit was on display in the second set of her State quarterfinal match against Hinsdale Central’s Alex Solovyev. Despite facing a 6-3, 5-2 deficit, Casati didn’t give in.
“At that point, I had nothing to lose,” Casati said. “I said to myself, ‘Why not put it all on the line?’ ”
Casati whacked winners — some of them painted the court’s lines — as she won five straight games to force a third set. The 3-4 seed then found herself trailing 5-2 in the clincher.
This one, though, fell short. Solovyev advanced to a semifinal with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory.
It was Casati’s first loss of the fall. The total number of sets Casati had lost in 2011, before that State quarterfinal: zero.
“I love her attitude on the court,” said classmate Jenna Borzak. “And Alexis makes tennis look so effortless. She’s such a clean player; her game … it really flows.”
One moment captured the never-say-die attitude of the doubles team of Stevenson sophomore Alexxis Kiven and freshman Kendall Kirsch, selected as Pioneer Press Lake Shore Doubles Players of the Year.
During the State quarterfinals, Whitney Young’s Kendall Scruggs pounded an overhead smash that looked like a sure winner. A fan standing near the court, yelled, “Yeah, baby!”
But Kiven, anticipating from the baseline, got her racket on the smash and lofted a lob to keep the point alive.
Kiven had an answer for the next smash as well, and the young Patriots duo won the point to go up 8-7 in the breaker.
Mr. ‘Yeah, baby!’ may have said to himself, “Oh, no!”
Kiven/Kirsch took the 16th point of the tiebreaker to clinch a 6-2, 7-6 (7) victory and semifinal berth.
“Alexxis and Kendall earned that tiebreaker,” said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope. “Those Whitney Young kids stopped missing shots in the second set … hit big shots on big points. I’m really proud of the way Alexxis and Kendall battled late in the second set.”
Stanhope’s sense of pride for his top doubles team — and the rest of his crew at State — grew, as Stevenson, behind Kiven/Kirsch’s program-best third-place showing in doubles, finished third (21 points) for the Patriots’ first state trophy since the 1996 squad took runner-up honors.