ST. CHARLES – Shouting and clapping intensified Thursday with each new visitor to the alley bisecting St. Charles East’s tennis courts.
In the end, every East and St. Charles North boys player not named Keith Hedges, Mitch Riggs, Connor Anderson or Colin Jones lined the fence – standing near different segments, of course.
“We all hang out during the summer. We’re buddies,” Saints senior George Spoerl said. “But it’s like, during the season, it gets tight.”
That reality resonated through the final point of North’s 4-3 Upstate Eight Conference River Division dual victory, a result secured only when Hedges and Riggs earned a 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-6(5) win at No. 2 doubles for the North Stars.
“It’s one of those things that you talk about winning ugly and you talk about making sure you finish matches, and I thought they did a great job today of finishing the tiebreak,” North coach Sean Masoncup said. “They didn’t own the momentum, but they kept fighting and trying to get after it, and you win those.”
North (2-0 UEC River) claimed victories in three of the four doubles matches against the Saints (1-1). Grant Spellman and Aaron Amburgey’s 6-2, 6-2 win against Spoerl and Alex Winters in the No. 1 slot set the tone.
While the North Stars’ pair lamented it wasn’t always at its best, strong net play provided a constant and helped Spellman and Amburgey prevail.
“I’d say neither of us have particularly amazing strength or anything like that,” Amburgey said. “I think we both have great hands. If we can get to the net as soon as possible, that’s good.”
Urgency doubled as a theme for Saints senior No. 1 singles standout Jasper Koenen, a 6-1, 6-1 victor against North sophomore Matt Ernst.
Koenen, East’s student body president, left shortly after his 45-minute match to meet a group of classmates who were interviewing a St. Charles therapist as part of a project for their Advanced Placement psychology course.
Before departing – eventually to return – Koenen enjoyed what many find therapeutic: music. East’s girls soccer team hosted South Elgin at adjacent Norris Stadium, and the pregame warmups provided an indadvertent soundtrack for early tennis action.
“I don’t know, I kind of enjoy music. It makes it a little more relaxing,” Koenen said. “If it’s like, dead quiet sometimes, it can be a little nerve-racking. Not really nerve-racking, but if it’s silent, you don’t want to do anything wrong.”
Appropriately, Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up” blared over the Norris PA system late in Ernst’s first encounter with the Michigan State-bound Koenen.
“Before [Ernst] went on, we talked, and I said, ‘You know, you’re playing a kid that’s got a Division I scholarship, who finished fourth in the state of Illinois [in 2013]. This is fun. You get to see what you’re like,’ ” Masoncup said.
North sophomore Matt Kramer responded to a challenge of his own, defeating East senior Matt McCarthy in No. 2 singles, 6-3, 6-2.
Both athletes played doubles last season, but Kramer didn’t change his game.
“Just a lot of topspin, just keep it deep and just try and hit more shots in than the other guy, pretty much,” he said.
The senior-laden North Stars embraced Thursday’s closeness. When East’s No. 4 doubles tandem of Chris Horn and Stefan Cvarkovic won, 6-4, 7-6(5), the only result still outstanding was at No. 2 doubles.
“Obviously, we would like to win, but it’s a pressure-cooked match, and they were really good matches,” Saints coach Rob Livermore said. “Both teams played well and I’m real proud of how those guys battled back.”
Masoncup delivered a pep talk before the match, stressing the importance of getting even after East won last season’s dual.
Amburgey, a transfer from suburban Louisville, Ky., at last experienced his first crosstown showdown as a participant. He got a taste as a fan during football and basketball season.
“I mean, we could just tell that everybody had a lot of energy and everybody was getting really pumped up,” Amburgey said.
Nothing new in these parts.