Evelyn Youel and Jillian Wallace had a lot of big wins in the girls tennis season as Crystal Lake Central’s No. 1 doubles team, but a loss may have been their most important match.
Wallace and Youel went undefeated in the Fox Valley Conference regular season and breezed to an FVC Tournament championship, dropping five games in their three matches. Heading into the Cary-Grove Sectional, they were the prohibitive favorites to win the doubles championship.
In the sectional finals, Wallace and Youel lost to familiar opponents, Crystal Lake South’s Kelsey Laktash and Rachel Siemon. The Tigers’ duo had beaten them twice already and just a week earlier in the FVC championship, 6-1, 6-1.
But at sectionals, Siemon and Laktash played consistently and pulled out a 7-5, 6-4 win. The loss was tough to take at the time for Youel and Wallace and likely cost them a seed at state. What it gave them was mental toughness, and perhaps humility, heading into state.
“I think we took the points for granted. It’s good sometimes to lose,” Youel said. “We went in there feeling like we were all that, but I think it helped us.”
“I think that losing helped us a lot at state,” Wallace added. “Since we lost it showed that we wanted to do better at state.”
Wallace and Youel started strong at state and beat a 17-32 seed in the first round. They got bumped to the consolation bracket with a close loss in the third round to Naperville North’s Kamile Stadalninkaite and Abbie Boswell, a 9-16 seed.
In the back draw, they won four rounds to advance to the quarterfinals, including wins against a 17-32 and a 9-16 seed. Reaching the quarterfinals left Wallace and Youel as one of the top-12 doubles teams in the state.
For their accomplishments, Wallace and Youel are the Northwest Herald Girls Tennis Players of the Year as selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
Also given strong consideration was Tigers’ teammate Jenna Wallace, who qualified for state in singles for the fourth consecutive year, won the Cary-Grove Sectional and went undefeated in the FVC.
Jillian Wallace and Youel also lost at state last season in the third round to a 9-16 seed. That is where the similarities end between the two losses. In 2011 they were blown out, 6-0, 6-1. This year they lost, 6-4, 6-4, and proved to themselves that they could compete at this level.
“We had a lot closer match,” Jillian said. “We realized that we could potentially be playing teams closer to our level.”
The match also left them feeling frustrated that they were not able to capitalize on the opportunity to advance in the championship bracket.
“It was harder losing because I felt like we were right there. It was a whole different feeling,” Youel said. “We felt like we could play right along with them.”
First year Tigers’ coach Katie Lashbrook said her top doubles team wanted to take their game to the next level. She was able to help them because they were receptive to instruction.
“They’re very coachable. They listen well,” Lashbrook said. “I had more talent to work with because they would listen.”
Most of the improvement came in learning to play doubles strategically and developing a stronger mental approach to the game.
“It was fun to watch them grow as doubles partners,” Lashbrook said. “I think they studied their opponents better and realized what they needed to do.”
Youel and Jillian Wallace, both juniors, have played doubles together since their freshmen season. Whether they will have a fourth year together is yet to be determined, but Lashbrook said that mixing in some singles with their doubles will help their game.
“I am a firm believer in working on both singles and doubles,” Lashbrook said. “Their goals should be really high.”
For Youel and Jillian Wallace, state was a revelation about how good they were now and how much better they could be.
“It made us feel stronger about our game,” Youel said. “It makes me want to work harder.”