Natalie Karibian breezed through the singles competition in the Class AA Belleville East Sectional over the weekend.
The Edwardsville sophomore celebrated her first sectional championship after beating O’Fallon’s MacKenzie Shelton 6-1, 6-1 in the title match. The second-seeded Karibian didn’t lose a set at sectionals.
“Natalie Karibian was dominant in singles,” Edwardsville coach Dave Lipe said.
Now, Karibian is setting her sights on turning in another dominant performance at the Class 2A state tournament, which starts on Thursday and ends Saturday in suburban Chicago. She is making her second state tournament appearance.
But Karibian is hoping her second trip to state will be much smoother than her first. Last year, she went 0-2 in singles competition.
“It was quick, but it was a good experience,” she said.
Abby Cimarolli and the doubles teams of Morgan Colbert/Grace Desse and Mackenzie Cadagin/Maria Mezo will join Karibian at state this weekend.
Colbert is making her fourth state appearance, Desse, Cadagin and Mezo are playing at state for the second year in a row and Cimarolli will be playing at state for the first time.
“I think we will do well,” Karibian said. “I think doubles are going to do really well like they did last year. Abby is playing singles with me and I think we’re both going to do really well.”
The Tigers won their 20th straight sectional title after winning the nine-team tournament with 33 points. O’Fallon was second with 23 points and Belleville East placed third with 18.
It does mark the first time for a AA sectional title, with the IHSA expanding to a two-class system.
“I’m proud of all of the kids,” Lipe said. “I’m proud to qualify all six kids. That’s a big deal, obviously. Winning the sectional team championship is nice. Qualifying four entries is more important than winning a title. A title is a nice ego boost, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the state tournament series.”
Colbert and Desse won the doubles sectional championship by beating Belleville East’s Isabel Burwitz and Chloe McIsaac in the finals.
Cadagin and Mezo placed third in doubles after beating O’Fallon’s Miley Brunner and Kate Macaluso 6-2, 6-1 in the third-place match. On Friday, they knocked off O’Fallon’s Mady Schreiber and Abbey Byrnside 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in the second round, then defeated Glenwood’s Anna Lytchakov and Haneen Said 6-4, 7-5 in the quarterfinals to clinch a state berth.
“Their path was very dramatic,” Lipe said. “It (second-round match) was a great match. In their next match, they took on the No. 3 seed Glenwood that started late at night. They started at 5 o’clock and we didn’t finish until 7:30 or so. Those two girls are a fantastic team.”
Cimarolli finished fourth in singles after losing to O’Fallon’s Katie Halwachs 6-4, 6-4 in the third-place match.
Karibian received a first-round bye in sectionals. On Friday, she beat Springfield’s Rachel Shelley 6-0, 6-0 in the second round and knocked off Glenwood’s Hannah Reigle 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals to clinch a state berth.
The next day, Karibian beat Halwachs 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinals before knocking off the top-seeded Shelton in the finals.
Lipe said he was thrilled Karibian came out on top in sectionals this year. Last year, she lost to teammate Callaghan Adams in the singles final at the Alton Sectional.
“As the No. 2 seed, she took down the No. 3 seed and the No. 1 seed,” Lipe said. “She had a tough road and the two girls from the O’Fallon whom she beat, they hit a lot of balls on the court and they play a certain style and Natalie had to be very strong to get past that today and she was able to pull that off.”
Karibian won her second tournament title in a week. Last week, she won the No. 2 singles championship in the Southwestern Conference Tournament, coming from behind to beat Burwitz 3-6, 6-2, 18-16 in the finals at Belleville West.
“We had some long points,” Karibian said. “She played well and I played well. It was tough and close.”
In last year’s state tournament, Karibian lost to Vandalia’s Hannah Blythe and Wheaton North’s Madeline Fidel, both in two sets. Karibian said even though she didn’t get a win, she enjoyed the experience of playing at state for the first time.
“It was good for me because I can see the big level of competition,” Karibian said. “It helped me get better and it helped me motivate myself to play better.”
Lipe said Karibian has improved tremendously from her freshman year.
“Last year, she played No. 5 singles and this year, she won the sectional,” the Edwardsville coach said. “She was a very strong player all year long for us at No. 1 singles in our tournament and at No. 2 singles in most of our dual matches behind Morgan. Natalie really grew over the last 12 months and even throughout this season in terms of her maturity and her ability to put together points.”
This fall, Karibian helped her team win 17 matches and capture Southwestern Conference titles in dual match and tournament play. It was the fifth straight outright SWC crown for EHS and eighth consecutive year they’ve at least shared the title.
“We build each other up and we’re always together and it’s really good for me because they’re always positive with me and we’re always together as a team and it’s really nice,” Karibian said. “It helps me play better.”