Ashley Culin and Maddie Rowen | Bill Stone

While Lyons Township High School senior Maddie Rowen played summer tennis for the La Grange Field Club with Molly Burke and Ashley Culin, talk quickly turned to the upcoming high school season.

Now a senior, Rowen and Burke were doubles partners in 2022 but Burke had graduated.

“We were thinking about who am I going to play with? We both thought that (Culin) would be a good fit,” Rowen said. 

“We’ve known each other for a while. That definitely makes it easier. She’s super consistent. Now I’m more of the firecracker, whereas I feel like last year that was Molly so it’s like a transition but we adapt to each other.”  

The two saw plenty of each other Saturday at the eight-team Naperville North Invitational but some six hours and three matches later, they were all smiles. 

They won the No. 2 doubles title by outlasting the Huskies’ Aaryana Parekh and Aanika Parekh 2-6, 7-6 (3), 10-3. 

All third sets were decided by a 10-point tiebreaker. The Lions won the final five points.

“It feels great. I think we worked really hard,” Culin said. “We overcame a lot of tough matches but it ended up well and we played really well.” 

The Lions (31 points) finished second to Maine South.

Senior Abby Michaelson finished second at No. 2 singles. Seniors Scarlette Rahman (No. 1 singles) and Ashlin Kwong (No. 3 singles) and juniors Mia Graziano and Ginny Gibbs (No. 1 doubles) were third and senior Camille Woods and sophomore Rhia Nagale (No. 3 doubles) were fifth.

Rowen and Burke had finished second at the invite in 2022. Rowen and Culin had lost to the same Naperville North team in straight sets Sept. 20.

“I told Ashley, ‘All right, get me another medal.’ I didn’t think we would come first so it was a good surprise,” Rowen said. 

“We came for redemption (with Naperville North) and I think that kind of put a fire under our butts to get moving. We had some tough matches before and we’re like, ‘We came all this way. Let’s just win.’ ”

With two more three-set victories, Culin and Rowen have become used to taking matches to the limit. They won their opener 4-6, 7-5, 10-6.

“We definitely go into a lot of tiebreakers. It’s OK, though, because a lot of times we come out the other side and win so it’s worth it,” Culin said. 

The Lions’ singles players Saturday got rare varsity opportunities. Senior Sofija Grujic and freshman Abby Sullivan were battling injuries and junior Addy Pelling was out of town. Grujic is feared lost for the season with her foot injury.

Michaelson said Saturday was her greatest accomplishment before Saturday was second at No. 1 junior varsity singles at the 2022 West Suburban Conference Silver Meet. She often plays exhibition doubles matches with Rahman.

“I would say this is pretty big because the opponents are a lot tougher,” Michaelson said. 

Michaelson and Rahman both won matches after losing the first set. Michaelson won her semifinal tiebreaker 11-9.

“(LTHS coach Clint Buetikofer) said swing through the ball. That really helped me because I was being tentative with my shots,” Michaelson said. “I feel like once I started swinging through, it was good.”