Deerfield’s Casati wills her way to fifth place at State
Deerfield's Alexis Casati celebrates a point during the fith-place match in Saturday's state tennis tournament. She won the match and finished her season with a 27-1 record. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 28, 2011 8:14AM
For most of a singles match at Saturday’s state girls tennis meet, Alexis Casati could not feel her legs.
“I couldn’t feel my arms, either,” said the Deerfield High School junior.
Playing lots of tennis — seven matches in three days, including six on Friday and Saturday — can certainly numb a limb.
But the Warrior played like a Warrior in her final match on Saturday, edging Grayslake North senior Kelly Poggensee-Wei 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the match for fifth place at Prospect.
“She goes into each match thinking she can win,” Deerfield coach Rich Koukol said. “Elite players, like Alexis, have to think that way. The most improved part of her game, without a doubt, is the mental aspect.
“She’s always been a good athlete,” he added. “And a hard worker and a fighter.”
Casati’s fight, as well as her pumped-up mind, showed Saturday morning in the second set of her quarterfinal against Hinsdale Central’s Alex Solovyev, whom Casati had defeated 7-6, 6-4 in the regular season.
Casati, on Saturday, faced a 6-3, 5-2 deficit vs. the Red Devil.
“At that point,” she recalled, “I had nothing to lose. 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.
Casati, a 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: 0.
“That was a tough match, so tough,” Deerfield assistant coach Josh Leighton said. “It’s hard when you hit virtual winners, like Alexis was hitting, and the shots come back as winners. (Solovyev) played awesome tennis.
“I honestly think Alexis did everything she could.”
Casati, some 20 minutes later, returned to a court and beat New Trier’s Carol Finke 6-3, 6-2 for a spot in the fifth-place match against Poggensee-Wei.
Casati, who reached the Round of 16 at State last fall, finished her junior season with a marvelous 27-1 record.
“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.”
Borzak and Jorie Fox, another junior, needed to get going in the second set of their fourth-round doubles match against New Trier’s Rebecca Ritchie/Alana Peters on Friday.
They had lost of the first set, 6-2, and fell behind 2-1 in the second at Rolling Meadows.
“They looked pretty down to me,” Koukol said.
But they found a way to erase down.
And look up.
NT’s tandem, thanks to several overhead opportunities, threatened to take control with a 3-1 lead.
Fox, thanks to her stellar overhead defense, changed the tenor of the match. Fox/Borzak, via scrambling and quick reflexes and well-placed lobs, ended up winning several points that appeared to be NT’s.
“They did such a good job of changing the pace of their shots in the second set,” said Koukol. “Their shot selection improved, as well.
“Jenna and Jorie,” he added, “learned that there’s more to doubles than just hitting out.”
Borzak/Fox, seeded 9-16, won five consecutive games in the second set and then eliminated the 5-8 seed with a 6-3 third set.
“It was great to see,” said Koukol. “You could see Jenna and Jorie, after a difficult first set, start to believe they could beat a higher seed.”
Borzak/Fox, in a quarterfinal Saturday morning at Prospect, bowed 6-0, 6-1 in eventual champs Marika Cusick/Caroline Lorenzini of Hinsdale Central. The upstarts of the doubles draw, Whitney Young’s unseeded Kendall Scruggs/Natalie Whalen, defeated Borzak/Fox 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a consolation-round semifinal.
Borzak/Fox (23-8) finished seventh-eighth, a year after pairing up for a top-24 showing at State.
Deerfield’s other state entrant last weekend, junior Mindy Borovsky, split a pair of singles matches as a 17-32.
Koukol’s crew placed fourth (18 points), only three points shy of a state trophy. Hinsdale Central (39), New Trier (28) and Stevenson (21) finished 1-2-3.
Deerfield’s point total deserves an asterisk. Only three DHS entrants qualified for State; the top three teams had earned the maximum four entrants (2 singles players, 2 doubles teams).