Lake Forest freshman Autumn Rabjohns takes her ‘insanely hard’ shot to the state finals

Chicago Tribune Sports 2 weeks ago

Kiley Rabjohns doesn’t quite understand her younger sister’s power.

The Lake Forest junior won the Class 2A singles state title last season. Her ability and accomplishments already are unquestioned. Her team won the Highland Park Sectional on Saturday, tallying 35 points — 14 more than second-place Deerfield — and is expected to make its presence known at the state finals that begin Thursday in Buffalo Grove.

But Kiley Rabjohns’ sister, freshman Autumn Rabjohns, shook things up at the sectional. She finished first among qualifiers — Kiley Rabjohns was second — and the younger sister’s power was on full display.

“I definitely wish I could hit it as hard as her,” Kiley Rabjohns said. “She can hit it insanely hard. It’s great. When we do drills in practice, some people will be like, ‘Ugh, I hope I don’t have to volley against Autumn.’ She just crushes the ball. She rips winners past people from positions on the court that nobody would expect. I don’t know how, but she does it.”

Of course, power alone can’t carry a player to the state title. Experience is an important factor. So for Autumn Rabjohns, merely reaching the tournament she’s longingly observed the past two years is significant.

“The last two years I’ve watched Kiley and the team play there,” she said. “It just seemed incredibly fun and exciting. I’ve definitely been thinking about it since her freshman year.”

Coach Denise Murphy also is tempering expectations for the freshman. The experience of playing with and against different players, observing different looks and being able to counter those styles can take time.

“She’s a freshman with a full toolbox,” Murphy said. “But you can be unfamiliar with when or how to use them. The more experience she has, she’ll be able to identify certain scenarios and plays and will be able to capitalize on those situations. She’s got it all. It’s just a matter of time.”

Autumn Rabjohns remembers her parents signing her up for tennis classes when she was ”6 or 7,” and she began playing in tournaments a year or so later. She quickly became hooked on the sport.

And while she may have more experience than the typical high school freshman, there’s still plenty to learn. Not just from her sister — Murphy describes the family dynamic as “so cool, just the absolute best to observe” — but also from a team that finished second in Class 2A last year and hopes to eclipse that mark this weekend.

Seniors Nika Belova and Salma Alsikafi qualified as the first doubles team at the Highland Park Sectional, and junior doubles partners — and twin sisters — Lili Goshgarian and Clara Goshgarian also advanced.

“I love this team so much,” Autumn Rabjohns said. “All the girls, I love them all. It’s so much fun being around them. The vibe we have around this group right now is just so positive and enjoyable.

“This weekend, I just want to contribute as much as I can.”

Rich Mayor is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.

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