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NORMAL — When it came to choosing her sectional lineup, University High School girls tennis coach Catherine Sturdyvin had several options, all promising.

The path she took last weekend helped the Pioneers defend their title in the Class 1A Bloomington Sectional, giving U High its third sectional crown in program history. 

More importantly, the Pioneers advanced two singles players and a doubles team to the 47th annual state tournament, which begins its three-day run at Buffalo Grove on Thursday.

Sturdyvin is convinced her team can improve upon last year's tie for seventh.

"I think top five is 100 percent realistic," she said. 

Sturdyvin rates defending champion Winnetka North Shore Country Day as the favorite followed by Chicago Latin, fifth a year ago, and Lake Villa Lakes, which has the top-seeded singles player in Megan Heuser.

"We're excited for the challenge," Sturdyvin said. "The girls are hoping for a trophy."

The Pioneers went 10-3 in dual meets with the only losses coming to Class 2A schools New Trier, Belleville East and Maine South. U High won the Bloomington Invitational and the Central State Eight Conference Tournament

The Pioneers' state singles qualifiers are freshman McKenna Schaefbauer (21-0) and junior Abby Totten (25-4). A No. 3-4 state seed, Schaefbauer gave Totten two of her losses as they finished 1-2 in both the conference and sectional.

"McKenna is about as hard working and committed as they come," Sturdyvin said. "She's extremely dedicated and she knows her game.

"She has really been a huge addition to the team, not just in allowing everyone to scoot down a spot, but I think when you see someone who works that hard, it helps set the tone."

Sturdyvin ranks Totten among the smartest players around. Her father, Joe, is a U High assistant coach.

"If she's having a rough couple of games or a rough start to a set, we just don't worry about her because she knows her game," Sturdyvin said. "She tends not to overdo things or underdo things." 

Sturdyvin considers Schaefbauer and Totten, who went 14-0 in doubles, among the state's best doubles teams, but she had them play postseason singles to maximize their state scoring potential.

"They haven't even almost dropped a set to anybody (in doubles)," said Sturdyvin, noting Totten reached the top 24 in state singles last year. 

As a freshman, Totten finished third in state doubles while playing with Schaefbauer's older sister, Isabel, a Winthrop volleyball recruit.

The 5-foot-9 Schaefbauer, who uses an attacking style, doesn't mind playing singles.

"Whatever I can do to help the team get a win," she said. "Me and Abby would have been a good team, but we both know as singles players we can help the team a lot more."

Totten has overcome an early season injury.

"I definitely prefer doubles, but I love singles as well," she said. "With the way our team is, it makes a lot more sense to split us up.

"Going in to state, you don't want to have too high of expectations, but you don't want to doubt yourself either. I think our season has prepared us well for anything we're going to face at state."

U High's state doubles team of freshman Brooke Martin and sophomore Maggie Kraft has gone 8-11.

"We were fortunate enough that Brooke and Maggie really started peaking and playing so much better together toward the end of the year," Sturdyvin said. "We're hoping they can win a couple matches this week as well."

Kraft relies on aggression while Martin relies on consistency. When it's time to punish foes, Kraft employs a big serve while Martin uses volleys.

Competition in practice has been high all season.

"It is fun to watch," Sturdyvin said. "Everybody has gotten better from day one until now. That is something that I am really proud of."

Contact Randy Sharer at (309) 820-3405. Follow him on Twitter: @PG_sharer

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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