For a second straight season, an area girls tennis team had a doubles pairing make their way to the state championship match. After Brooke Coffman and Gabby Lee finished as the runner-up last fall in class 2A, Benet Academy juniors Shane Delaney and Claire Lopatka made their way to the 1A championship. This Feature Story is sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.
New opportunities in a different class
The two began competing as a pair together last season as members of class 2A, which resulted in a runner-up finish in sectionals and a top-20 finish at state. In 2021, Delaney played doubles alongside Claire Converse while Lopatka competed in the singles division. The success the duo achieved in 2A a year ago provided plenty of confidence heading into the 1A tournament this season.
“I really enjoyed moving to 1A because I think it gives us an opportunity to play more matches and grow more as a team,” said Benet Academy junior Shane Delaney.
The team certainly grew in a major way, winning both the doubles and team sectional championships, in addition to another ESCC conference title, that was only the start of a dominating postseason run. The Redwings showed their entire team depth as juniors Natalie Glover and Katie Jendra advanced to the 1A doubles quarterfinals. Freshman Lily Loptaka qualified for state in singles as did junior Meredith Converse, who also advanced to the quarterfinal round.
Historic day three for Benet girls tennis
On the third day of state competition, the stakes were high at Buffalo Grove as Delaney and Lopatka swept their way to the doubles championship match, taking on Chrystina Lee and Jane Carter from Timothy Christian. The Redwing duo continued to show the same poise that led them to this point, sweeping their opponents in straight sets 6-3, 6-1 to win the 1A doubles first-place medals. It was the second doubles title for the Benet program, following Kaitlyn Lee and Kendall Schrader in 2019.
“It was an exciting match, although we went out there a little nervous, but we were ready to play and as we got going, we picked up the momentum and kept it going throughout the match,” said Benet Academy junior Claire Lopakta
“They’ve worked almost for the last two years. Last year we were in 2A and they played doubles. They knew they wanted to play doubles, and they were focused almost from the end of last season, knowing that this was going to happen and they were going to do their to get the state championship,” said Benet Head Tennis Coach Michael Hand.
Glover and Jendra also won the fifth-place match in a competitive two-sets by scores of 6-3 and 6-4 over Rylee O’Fallon and Emma Cushing from Ottawa Township. The two-for-one special on the final day brought even more excitement to the team. With Converse making the quarterfinals as well before falling in the consolation semifinals, it was the first time in Benet program history that there were three competitors still alive on the final day of state.
“It’s a great feeling seeing all of our teammates do so well and we’ve had a great team this year and it’s been a great season,” said Delaney.
A single point from another team state title
Despite the victories on Saturday, the Wings finished in second place in the team standings to Chicago University, missing out on the state title by a single point. Despite coming so close to his second-team championship as head coach, Mike Hand could not have been more proud of the team’s success throughout the 2023 campaign.
“They’ve done a great job, they’ve really pushed through from the beginning of the season to getting ready to this point it’s been wonderful to watch the growth and how well they’ve improved and how they embraced the moment here it was wonderful,” said Hand.
Even more good news for the Hall of Fame head coach of the Redwings all of his varsity state qualifiers should be returning to the court next fall.
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