NORMAL — Tennis practice late Tuesday afternoon gave University High School junior Carter Burk a brief respite from final exams. He faced two more Wednesday as the Pioneers worked to complete their academic responsibilities before heading north for the state tournament.
The irony is another final exam awaits beginning Thursday in the Chicago suburbs. Burk and doubles partner Josh Friesen have been preparing for that one for a year.iinto
Seeded second a season ago, the duo placed fifth in the Class 1A State Tournament.
“We were definitely disappointed,” Friesen said.
Now, they are determined.
Burk and Friesen, a senior, head into the tournament as the No. 1 seed with a 25-1 record.
“I’d say we’re more driven this year to try to finish higher,” Friesen said.
Burk agreed, saying, “It’s time to do better. We definitely underachieved last year.”
The two were first-year partners last season. They have played more matches now to further “build a connection,” Burk said.
They also learned from last year.
“We’re not going to take any opponent for granted,” Burk said. “We’re going to take every opponent as a threat to us.”
Burk and Friesen lead a U High contingent that also includes junior Dorath Chamarthi (18-4) and sophomore Vishnu Anagani (10-3) in singles, along with juniors Thomas Moh and Mason Runkel in doubles (18-2).
Chamarthi is a Nos. 5-8 seed in singles, while the Moh-Runkel duo is among the Nos. 9-16 seeds in doubles. Both Moh-Runkel losses have been to Burk-Friesen.
After placing fourth a year ago, U High looks to be in the hunt for the team championship.
“There are probably a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at it,” Pioneers coach Jon Friesen said. “It depends on the draw and it depends on who steps up. If you have a couple of entries who win one more match than you expect, that can be enough to get you the team title.
“I’m guessing on Saturday there will be multiple teams still mathematically in the mix. It’s going to come down to the last day. I’m hoping we’re right there.”
Burk and Friesen have lost only to a state-championship duo from Louisville, Ky. While they welcome being the No. 1 seed, they’re not caught up in it.
“I used to pay attention to seeding, but after last year, I think I really just need to focus on my game and what’s going to happen at state,” Burk said.
“We’re just focused on winning every match we can. That’s what matters in the end,” Josh Friesen said. “We take every match as it comes. We don’t worry about what everyone’s thinking or expecting.”
Chamarthi’s draw would include a quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Natan Spear of Chicago Northside. Jon Friesen said Chamarthi’s game is “a little bigger” this year, adding, “He hits the ball a little harder. He’s learned to put a little more on the ball and get a few more winners.”
Chamarthi’s focus in the offseason was on his first serve and forehand.
“I wanted my forehand to be a big weapon going into state,” he said. “My game has become better because I’ve gained a lot more muscle.”
The area will be well represented at the 1A state. Bloomington has senior Adam Hanson in singles along with sophomores Gagan Kadadevarmath and Evan Turnbull in doubles.
Junior Seth Jorgensen is Cornerstone Christian’s first-ever state qualifier, while Streator sophomore Greg Rashid also is in the singles field.
In doubles, Central Catholic has senior Ben Holley and sophomore Brian Wieland in the draw, with Pontiac represented by the sophomore duo of Griffin Brunner and Rocco Sartoris.
Class 2A: Normal Community carries the area hopes in Class 2A. Both of the Ironmen’s entries are in doubles: junior Parker Honegger and senior Shanku Nair, as well as the duo of senior Nachiketh Rotte and junior James Broach.
Action in both 1A and 2A will be at 14 sites throughout the Chicago suburbs.