Evanston seniors Margot Connor and Annie Hedges bowed out of the Illinois High School Association Class 2A state tournament Friday morning.
But not before taking one more step down the tournament path than they did a year ago.
A 6-2, 6-4 loss to Glenbard West’s Sarah Burke and Sophia Fausey in a consolation bracket match held at Schaumburg High School left the ETHS duo with a 2-2 tournament record in doubles play. They finished 1-2 at State as juniors.
“This year we really wanted to win our first match and stay in the main draw longer, and we did accomplish that,” Connor pointed out after the pair won two of three matches in Thursday’s competition. “I’m just glad we performed better than we did last year.
“We’re really happy because we didn’t do this well last year,” Hedges added. “We worked really hard to get here, and I think we did the best we could. This was definitely an accomplishment for us.”
Head coach Joyce Anderson, after starting the season with Connor playing at the No. 1 singles slot, reunited the pair at mid-season and watched them achieve a rare feat for an ETHS doubles players, qualifying for State together for the second year in a row.
It marked the sixth straight season that the Wildkit girls tennis program has sent qualifiers to the state tournament.
“Of course, this was a huge opportunity they missed out on today,” said Anderson regarding the loss to a beatable Glenbard West team. “But they did really well. When you look at the big picture, I think they exceeded expectations.
“In the second set they buckled down and had fewer errors, and that helped. Overall they played pretty smart tennis, they just didn’t execute at the end.”
Connor’s strong serving got the Wildkits off to a 1-0 start in the first game of the first set, but the pair only one won more game in the first set. Connor’s serving was also a highlight of the second set, as she delivered two aces that helped Evanston seize a 3-2 advantage.
Then unforced errors helped Glenbard West advance with wins in three of the next four games.
“One thing we learned last year at the state tournament is that sometimes it’s hard to get a feel for the other team’s strengths and weaknesses, when you’re playing against people you don’t really know,” Hedges pointed out. “Today we were a little more aggressive and a little more confident in that second set. We did a better job of keeping the ball in play.”
As a team, Hedges and Connor finished with an overall record of 15-11. They opened play Friday with a 7-5, 6-2 trimming of Rhea Arora and Nur Sucu of Schaumburg; lost to sisters Brianna and Cassidy Hillock of Lockport 6-4, 6-1; and scored a 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Annika Hiredesai and Hannah Shim of Normal Community 6-1, 6-2, earning ETHS a total of 3 points in the team standings.
Hedges will likely always remember the loss to Lockport, only because of the way the Hillock team turned up the volume — verbally.
“Those were two really loud and vocal girls. I’ve never heard anything like that on the court,” Hedges said of the twins’ raucous reaction to shots. “They were really strong players and really aggressive, and we didn’t click the way we did in our first match. Maybe all of that screaming threw us off a bit, but they were a really good team, too.
“In the last match Friday we just had the mindset that we had to take it so we could get to play today. Margot really picked it up a lot, and when she does that, it helps motivate me, too.”
Connor sheepishly admitted that she had another motivation for keeping the season alive. A victory in the back draw meant no school on Friday for the two seniors.
“I really didn’t want to go to school the next day, so we pulled through and we won,” she said. “After that, we anticipated that it would be pretty hard to make it to Saturday. But going to State is so much fun, and it was more fun for us this year because we played a lot better here as a team. We were a lot more competitive as a team all year, I think.”
Hedges was voted the Class 2A winner of the Pitchford Sportsmanship Award by members of the Illinois High School Tennis Coaches Association, only the second ETHS competitor to earn the award after Abbey Moore won in 2015. The award was established in 1989 and is regarded as the highest honor an Illinois high school tennis player can receive.