Kailash Panchapakesan led a Jacobs’ singles lineup of all freshmen which could be a powerhouse for the next three years.
Putting freshmen in each of his three singles positions was an unusual move for Golden Eagles’ coach Jim Benson. The move was tempered by a predominantly laden senior doubles lineup.
“It’s unheard of,” Benson said of his young lineup. “The senior players kept [Panchapakesan] under their wings.”
Benson’s young singles lineup paid big dividends as the three had just one loss combined in the Fox Valley Conference regular season. Panchapakesan was undefeated in the FVC regular season and did not even drop a set in his 13 wins.
“It’s unbelievable,” Benson said. “It shows the potential that [Panchapakesan] has.”
Panchapakesan took second in the FVC tournament and qualified for state with a third-place finish at the Elgin Sectional. At state, he won his first-round match and made it to the fourth consolation round to finish with a 3-2 record. He advanced further than any other area player and was the only one to finish state with a winning record.
For these accomplishments, Panchapakesan is the Northwest Herald Player of the Year as selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches. Panchapakesan is traveling out of the country with his family and was not available for an interview.
Also given strong consideration for player of the year were Hampshire’s Elisha Hougland and Marian Central’s Aaron Waters. Hougland won the FVC tournament at No. 1 singles and handed Panchapakesan his only conference loss. Waters won the Suburban Christian Conference and the Cary-Grove Sectional tournaments.
It was his last two matches at state that showed Benson how much potential Panchapakesan had. His third-round consolation match against Plainfield South’s Austin Russel was an emotional rollercoaster for Panchapakesan.
The Jacobs’ freshman called for a line judge early in the match and he dropped the first set. Russell then suffered cramping, which put Panchapakesan in a situation of not wanting to be callus but at the same time wanting to win.
After his three-set win, Panchapakesan said it was as tough of mental battle for him as it was a physical one for Russell.
“When he’s injured you start thinking ‘Should I play differently?’ “ Panchapakesan said during the state tournament. “I was a little shaken up. I just had to keep focused.”
In the fourth round, he lost to New Trier’s Will Szokol, 6-4, 6-3, but was up, 4-3, in each set. Szokol was a 17-32 seed.
“That was the culmination of his season,” Benson said of Panchapakesan’s final state match. “Watching him go up, you got a little view of the future.”
With the success Panchapakesan had, Benson’s only concern was that his top singles player stay grounded and continue to work.
“The one think I didn’t want was for him to think he was the best,” Benson said. “He played with so much poise and humility. He never let it go to his head.
Benson said that Panchapakesan played with the poise of an 18-year-old player and that his future will be bright.
“I know (Panchapakesan’s) going to keep pushing. The bar is so high,” Benson said. “He can go as high as he wants to.”