May 23, 2018
An All-State singles player last season, the powerful junior hopes “to go deep into the draw” at the 2018 IHSA State Tournament, which begins tomorrow as the weather warms.
By Mark Vruno
Gutierrez, who was All-State as a sophomore last year, heads into the state tourney as a 12th seed in 1A singles.
Good luck to Fenwick singles tennis player Carlos Gutierrez ’19, who is headed to Schaumburg High School today for the IHSA State Series. Gutierrez, the #12 seed in Class 1A, will face fellow junior Arian Rahbar of Dunlap High School, which is near Peoria, IL. Sixteen sectionals each sent four singles’ players and four doubles’ teams to state.
To qualify for the state meet, Gutierrez beat the Sectional’s #5 seed in three sets. He then pushed the defending Sectional champ, Mike Rooney from Naz, to three sets in the semi-final. “They were two long and grueling matches that had Carlos cramping up by the end,” reports Varsity Head Coach Gerard Sullivan, who also teaches English at Fenwick. “With a good seed, he will be positioned to go deep into the draw.”
Gutierrez is a returning All-State singles player “who was not even expected to qualify for 1A state out of our sectional because of how loaded it is,” adds Sullivan, who is in his 32nd year of coaching tennis at Fenwick. Last year, he was named among the regional boys’ coaches of the year by the Illinois High School Tennis Coaches Association.
Coach Sullivan’s star player’s strength may be peaking at the right time. In April, Gutierrez placed an impressive fifth at the 1A Pitchford Invite, “playing the best tennis I've ever seen from Carlos,” praises Sullivan. “This tournament was for the top 16 teams in the 1A division of state. All three of his wins were long battles in windy conditions not suited to a power game like his. He adjusted and ground it out, playing the last match of the event.”
Mr. Sullivan has been coaching tennis at Fenwick since 1986.
Sullivan points out that Montini Catholic, Nazareth Academy, DePaul Prep and Northside Prep all have outstanding singles players this season. The coach thought that Gutierrez’s best shot at going to state this year was in doubles, so they experimented with different playing partners leading into the Sectional at Fenton High School in Bensenville. He ultimately was paired with teammate Pierce Butler, a highly skilled sophomore with “rock-solid form,” according to his coach. Butler is not big or aggressive, but Sullivan notes that it’s difficult to pick on him.
“Pierce played like a wall on May 5th, making very few errors and hanging in some long exchanges. Meanwhile Carlos is a beast on the doubles court,” Sullivan observes. “His power and explosiveness are impressive in singles but even more so in doubles because it’s often more of a ‘rush and crush’ scenario. They won six straight sets against solid opponents to win the #1 title at the Fenton Invite.”
Tough times off the court
It has been somewhat of a tough year, emotionally, for Gutierrez, who resides with his family in Cicero. In mid-April a teaching pro, who worked closely with him and his sister for years when they were younger, lost his battle with cancer.
Sister and Fenwick alumna Laura Gutierrez '16 is a soon-to-be junior pre-med student and tennis player at the University of Chicago, which has one of the best Division III programs in the United States.
“He had been living in South Carolina and Florida, so Carlos did not know and his parents tried to keep the news from him until he had a few days to digest it,” Sullivan shares. “At a certain point they had to tell him. No time is good. Along with the other stresses of spring of junior year, Carlos has had a lot weighing on his mind.” Still, Gutierrez has not had any bad matches; just several, mostly close losses in a very tough schedule.
There are 64 players in the singles draw, Sullivan points out: “The seeds are kept apart from each other, so all 16 should be able to win their first two rounds (barring upsets), then meet on Friday when the top eight would meet the bottom eight for a spot in the quarterfinals. If all seeds advance, Carlos would meet a #3 or #4 seed [likely Wauconda’s Brian Hackman] on Friday.”
Coaching girls, too
Sullivan also is Head Coach of the Girls’ Varsity Tennis Team, a program he started at Fenwick in 1992. (He was an IHSTCA Girls’ Coach of the Year nominee in 2016.) Since 1986 his teams have posted more than 500 wins, ranking Sullivan among the Top 100 coaches in Illinois. He also is a three-time past recipient of the Chicago Catholic League (CCL) “Tony Lawless Coach of the Year” Award: in 2007, 1997 and 1994.
Carlos' sister, Laura Gutierrez ’16, is a sophomore pre-med student at University of Chicago who has established herself in the Maroon’s line-up this season. “They are one of the top Division III teams in the nation,” Sullivan notes. “Laura played doubles all her freshman year for us and then again, just for state, at the end of her senior year to fill in for an injured player. She went All-State both years in the old single-division state tournament.”