Ian Barr, Austin Naal make JCA tennis history

First team to qualify all four years; Siegfried-Naal also ready

Zach Siegfried (from left), Ian Barr, Nate Naal and Austin Naal will play for JCA in the IHSA boys tennis state tournament on Thursday.

JOLIET – The unspoken truth was obvious to Joliet Catholic Academy seniors Ian Barr and Austin Naal, particularly after a string of tennis matches that should have been wins slipped away as losses.

It wasn’t the same anymore.

“Pressure … it was the pressure,” Naal said of the Hilltoppers’ No. 1 doubles team, which had advanced to state three consecutive seasons. “We struggled because, in the past, we had played so carefree.”

“We were used to playing calm and confidently,” Barr pointed out. “We lost a couple of matches that we knew we would have won before, and it was like if we don’t get to state again, it’s embarrassing.”

In time, and at the right time of the spring, Barr and Naal turned the dial up several notches, earning advancement to today’s IHSA boys tennis state tournament at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

Dating to the school merger in 1990, Barr and Naal became the first JCA tennis players to qualify for the state finals in all four years of their career. They also defeated teammates Zach Siegfried, a junior, and Nate Naal, Austin’s younger brother and a sophomore, in the sectional for a second straight year.

Although Siegfried and Nate Naal dropped a 6-3, 6-3 decision – the year before, the duo lost to Barr and Austin Naal in the sectional finals, but this year in the third-place match – they also earned the opportunity to repeat as state qualifiers. First-round matches will begin Thursday morning at 14 sites.

“I think Ian and Austin will be relaxed,” JCA coach Scott Allgood said. “They won’t have the nerves. Even Zach and Nate, because they have been there before, it won’t be new or an eye-opener. The doubles teams who have that experience tend to jump to the early lead on teams there for the first time.”

Similarly to the Barr-Naal tandem, this won’t be the first time around the block for Siegfried-Nate Naal.

“We’re more confident this year,” Siegfried said. “I don’t think people thought Nate and I were supposed to make it downstate last year, but we’re more confident in each other this year.”

“Getting through that first day, a lot of it depends on the luck of the draw and the weather,” Allgood said. “Weather is what hindered us last year. What you hope for is good weather and a good draw.”

That draw has Barr-Austin Naal opening up at Elk Grove against junior Camron Bagheri and sophomore Connor O’Kelly of Lake Forest. Senior Aneesh Kanakamedala and freshman Jessae Kim of Chicago University will be the first-round opponents for Siegfried and Nate Naal at Wheeling.

“We’re going to play our hardest, play our best, and try to get to Friday,” said Barr, who will play club tennis and major in business at the University of Missouri. “If we can get to Saturday, that’s great.”

“It’s our last hurrah,” said Austin Naal, who will major in engineering at the University of Illinois. “We know this is our last shot. He knows my strengths and weaknesses and I know his. We blend together.”

While Austin Naal excels at the net, Barr plays better on the baseline. They were able to dominate in the sectional consolation against Siegfried and Nate Naal, putting Allgood in a unique position as a coach.

“It’s relaxing because, in that regard, you can’t lose,” he said. “You can’t show any favoritism, so what I do is I wait to see who loses the first set and then I coach them. Both doubles teams played well.”

The biggest hopes belong to Barr and Austin Naal, about whom Allgood confirmed “Ian and AJ have been looking forward to this all year.” It certainly is something that has not affected Siegfried and Nate Naal. Barr-Naal carries a 16-11 record to Siegfried-Naal’s 21-7, but the change comes from adversity.

It might not be the same, but it makes a difference.

“We got through the tough times,” Naal said. “And we believe that we have a pretty good shot.”

“Now, we’re looking forward to using our experience,” Barr said. “It should help us get even further.”

— Bill Scheibe, Director of Communications

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