Three members of the Sauk Valley Community College girls tennis team went from having fun in the sun to being left out in the cold.
Alas, the story may just have a happy ending yet.
Maddy Jacobs, Sonia Chino and Alyssa Marquez were teammates on the SVCC team last fall that placed third at the Region IV Tournament, hosted by Moraine Valley College in Palos Hills. Jacobs, Chino and Marquez, along with former teammates Hanneh Chromek, Adela Bajramoska and Chloe Klein, advanced to compete in the Division I NJCAA tennis championship in Tucson, Arizona in May.
Now sophomores at Sauk, Jacobs, Chino and Marquez were right in the middle of things.
Jacobs and Chino had lost to a duo from Moraine Valley in the regular season, but turned the tables in the Region IV Tournament semifinals. They won a third-set tiebreaker 12-10 to qualify for the finals as a fifth seed.
“It was really exciting,” Jacobs said. “We went into the tiebreaker at the end and just sealed the deal. Sonia was in the back and she hit a really nice, deep shot, which set me up perfectly at the net. Then I was able to put it away. That’s how we won.”
Individually, Jacobs was seeded sixth, but beat two foes that had previously defeated her to reach the finals, earning valuable team points in the process.
Marquez finished third at No. 6 singles to also contribute to the team’s third-place finish.
“I was shocked initially,” Marquez said. “I was surprised, because I didn’t really believe I’d be able to go. I was thrilled and super-excited to start training for [nationals] and fly to Arizona for the first time.”
That all changed, however, when the COVID-19 pandemic began wiping out sports. That included the NJCAA tennis nationals that Sauk was to compete in.
Longtime coach Sara Kipping would have qualified an SVCC team for the national tournament for the eighth time in 29 seasons. Instead, it was up to her to break the news to her girls, as well as the boys team she was to coach this past spring.
“To tell you the truth, I started crying,” Kipping said, “and then I had to call all the girls and tell them. That was one of the hardest things. Between telling the girls they weren’t going to Arizona, and telling the boys – and I had an awesome team last year – that they weren’t going to get to play at all. It was the worst week of my life.”
By the time Kipping called Chino, she already knew the situation, but it didn’t make it any easier.
“I remember seeing that it was completely canceled on Twitter, and then I was just waiting for the phone call,” Chino said. “I remember all the emotions because we had worked so hard to get there. All the odds kind of felt against us because we weren’t seeded to go.”
Making matters worse for Kipping was a ticklish money situation. She had booked airfare on a personal credit card for 16 people: herself, six players and nine parents and/or grandparents. When the tennis tournament was canceled, Kipping called the airline to cancel, but the airline balked. The bill was $6,000.
“It took me 2 months, between emails and phone calls,” Kipping said of getting the money back. “I did cry one time on the phone with one of the ladies. She was very nice to me and said, ‘Now, just write all this down in an email and send it off,’ so I did. It all worked out.”
Jacobs, Chino and Marquez are now sophomores at SVCC, and part of a team off to a 3-0 start. Chromek and Bajramoska graduated, while Klein, a freshman on last year’s team, transferred to Iowa.
The key date for the Skyhawks this season will be Oct. 9-10, when it hosts the Region IV Tournament for just the third time in Kipping’s tenure as coach. A top-three team finish would punch another ticket to nationals next spring, provided the pandemic situation improves.
“It’s definitely an extra incentive for us to get back, because then at least three of them would get to go,” Kipping said. “I feel bad for the other three. We really have a good team again this year, and we have a really good chance of going again.”
“It makes it even more special that we’re playing at home and that we’re going to be able to have a crowd, in their cars, watching us play,” Chino added.