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Boys Tennis: Sandburg’s Eric Pontow eyes big state run

Sandburg's Eric Pontow is hoping for big finish high school career thalready has seen him play 18 state tournament matches.

Sandburg's Eric Pontow is hoping for a big finish to a high school career that already has seen him play 18 state tournament matches. | Jeff Vorva~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 25, 2013 6:35AM



Here is a pre-match ritual Sandburg senior Eric Pontow can do without.

As a junior, he developed a lower back injury during the season, and toward the postseason he developed a blister on the bottom of his foot.

It wasn’t just a regular blister. Pontow describes it as a “giant, huge blister.”

His father, Bruce, gave him a needle and the advice of “go for it.”

And a pre-match ritual began.

“At state and matches before state, I would have to sterilize a needle and poke the needle into the bottom of the blister,” Pontow said. “I would have to get all of the blood and the pus out before I could play my next match.

“It was extremely painful.”

It might have made things less painful if he were a two-and-out player at the state meet. But his history is he likes to stick around for a long time.

Pontow leads all area players with 18 state matches, including five matches with the blister under his foot.

With the exception of an early season ankle injury, Pontow said he’s been healthy for the 2013 campaign and is hoping to finish his high school career with another big state run.

In three years, he has accounted for 16 of Sandburg’s 20 points in the state finals.

“He has progressed tremendously, even from last year,” Sandburg coach Brian Ostrander said. “He’s a little healthier, he’s a little stronger and a little fitter. So far, early in the season, it’s paid off.

“He’s been the star of the team his freshman, sophomore and junior year. But this year he’s contributed more to the team. In tennis, there is a lot more individualism. But I have to say he’s been nothing but a great teammate. As a coach, that’s probably the best thing I can say about a kid.

“He’s been trying to drill kids to improve them. He’s been talking to the team about some of his experiences. He’s kind of been like a coach out there. I think the maturity is really leaps and bounds higher in just a year.’’

Ostrander was most impressed with a two-day stretch in which Pontow made a nice recovery after a loss.

On April 8, Pontow was surprised to face U-High’s Conrad Harrin in a match in Orland Park. Harrin is ranked 69th in the country by the United States Tennis Association and did not participate in IHSA tennis his first three years.

“We were shocked when we found out Eric had to play him,” Ostrander said.

Harrin won the match 7-5, 6-2.

That set the stage for the next day, when Pontow had to face his friend, Lockport’s Lucas Randall. The previous time the two played, Randall beat Pontow in the 2012 SouthWest Suburban Conference meet.

Pontow won this year’s showdown 6-0, 6-1.

“Needless to say, that was shocking,’’ Ostrander said. “It was a dominating performance after the loss. That was a step in the right direction.’’

Pontow’s father is a six-time USA Badminton doubles national champion and his uncle, Brad, played tennis at Indiana. At age 11, Eric started playing tennis full-time after shedding baseball and soccer from his schedule.

Pontow is heading to UIC to play tennis next season. Jimmy Li, a Wheaton Warrenville South star who beat Pontow in a state match three years ago, helped get the ball rolling.

“Jimmy plays for UIC and I was at a tournament in Chicago,” Pontow said. “He said the UIC coaches were looking at me so I called them and later met the team. So the player who beat me as a freshman will now be my teammate.”



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