AURORA – Makayla Buenafe made adjustments throughout her high school tennis career, at times sacrificing for others.
She came to Oswego East as a singles player, but switched to doubles as a freshman. She stayed there as a sophomore for a shot at state.
That kind of flexibility helped Saturday.
Buenafe, now a senior, overcame physical ailments, changing playing conditions and unfamiliar opponents to take third place at the Class 2A West Aurora Sectional that concluded indoors at the Vaughan Athletic Center.
Under normal circumstances, that would mean a second trip to state – but not this year with the postseason concluding with sectionals because of COVID-19 restrictions. Buenafe, though, was thankful at what she did get to achieve.
"It was really nice," Buenafe said. "My coach told me not a lot of people get to finish their season with a win. I'm really grateful I got to play today to get that win."
Buenafe (16-2) won two matches by straight sets at West Aurora Friday, then dropped a 6-2, 6-0 semifinal to Neuqua Valley's Emily Chiou in Saturday's semifinal moved to Vaughan with cold, windy conditions Saturday. Buenafe then bounced back to beat Batavia's Alex Klein 7-5, 6-3 for third place, one better than her sectional finish last year.
Oswego East coach Pete Conrad noted that the sacrifice Buenafe made for her team in playing doubles her first two years sharpened her skills at the net, which came in handy Saturday.
"It's those little things that happen over the course of four years, you never know when you'll need those skills," Conrad said. "She's worked at all parts of her game tirelessly."
Buenafe needed a short break late in the second set against Klein to deal with a sore quad. Buenafe, who wore a sleeve on one leg, had calf cramps on Friday but rolled them out Friday night.
"I think it put pressure on my quads today," Buenafe said. "It was more the strain of playing two days in a row and the temperature change."
Buenafe, who hopes to play in college – ideally, somewhere in Florida – appreciated the opportunity to test her skills against top-notch players she doesn't normally see during the season.
"We're in a different conference from all the Naperville schools. It was challenging to get my level of play from more of a pusher style to actually getting the balls back from a faster speed of mine," Buenafe said. "I feel like I did a really good job on that part, adjusted well.
"It's really nice to see other playing styles. If I play at the collegiate level you'll definitely see more of those, that will help get me ready for the next level."
Oswego East was fourth in the team standings, with Neuqua Valley winning its sixth sectional title in seven years.
Meteqa Valley's Meera Baid (18-1), three times a third-place finisher at sectionals, beat Neuqua Valley sophomore Chiou for the third time this season, this time 6-4, 6-1, to win the singles championship.
"It's my last match of high school tennis, so it meant a lot," Baid said. "I feel grateful that sectionals happened. I didn't expect the season to go that far."
After a back-and-forth first set with Chiou, Baid dominated the second, winning the first five games.
"Emily is very consistent, a smart player. It was definitely a hard match but I'm glad I pulled through," Baid said. "She obviously played pretty well and we had close matches. This time I felt my nerves kicked in, I was pushing the ball, but the second set I started hitting it more."
There was no shortage of drama in the doubles final, the last match to finish. Undefeated and top-seeded Tiffany Zhang and Irene Zhang of Naperville North outlasted DVC rivals Sofia Ramos and Abigail Allen 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) to win their second straight sectional championship.
The Zhangs, both seniors but not related, made top eight at state last year after alternating qualifying for state doubles as freshmen and sophomores with the same doubles partner.
The two girls looked cool as cucumbers throughout Saturday's match, but admitted they felt the pressure build.
"I felt like it wasn't that bad at first but as we got deeper and deeper into the match it was more and more stressful," Tiffany Zhang said. "It's pretty cool to do this again."
The Naperville North pair beat their counterparts from Neuqua Valley for the third time this season, all three close matches, the last two three-setters. They overcame the raw power and emotion Ramos and Allen bring to the court.
"They're powerful, and Sofia has a big presence on the court," Irene Zhang said. "She's very intimidating."