Anastasia Goncharova learned a lot from her only loss of the high school tennis season.
The Evanston senior learned enough to write another chapter in the history of the ETHS girls tennis program Saturday at the Central Suburban League South division meet.
Goncharova turned the tables on defending league champion Michelle Bacalla of Niles North and became the first Wildkit female player ever to win a conference title at No. 1 singles with a convincing 6-2, 6-1 victory over her rival at the windswept Glenbrook South courts.
The history-making win helped power Evanston to a third place finish in the team standings, one of the program’s best finishes in years. Coach Joyce Anderson’s squad also counted a third place finish by Val Abusevichat No. 3 singles and third place efforts at No. 1 doubles (Annie Hedges/Margot Connor), No. 2 doubles (Mary Hays/Lily Magid) and No. 4 doubles (Angie Flint/Leah Altman).
Bacalla, who finished fourth in the Illinois High School Association state tournament last year, defeated Goncharova in a three-set showdown last week, a match that lasted two days because it was halted by darkness.
So the Evanston standout went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan to score her biggest win of the season, controlling the match Saturday to the extent that she won 8 straight games against a bewildered Bacalla.
“Today I was able to isolate myself more from the crowd than the last time we played. There were a lot of people who came out to see us play and that was a factor in that match,” Goncharova said. “Today I was able to focus more on my game and doing what it takes to make shots tough for her. She didn’t know where I was going with the ball, and even my serves were going right where I wanted them to go.
“I worked all week with my (private) coach and I had good preparation for today. I completely changed my game. The last time we played I hit everything low and flat and fast, right to her backhand, and that’s Michelle’s strength. Today I raised my shots more so she had to reach and she couldn’t attack much. And she also struggled to return my serve because of the way I mixed things up.
“I think that’s the best I’ve ever played against her. There was probably a little more pressure on her because she won last time, but we have great respect for each other, and it’s never an easy match. I’m extremely happy about the level I played at, and it feels nice to be able to make some history.”
Goncharova, the No. 2 seed, advanced with a routine 6-2, 6-2 win over New Trier’s Amia Ross.“Anastasia just dominated that match today,” said Anderson. “She’s really a diamond in the rough and she’s awesome to watch. She’s a once in a lifetime player and I may never coach a player like that again. She dominated the whole time even though I think of Michelle as a sleeping dragon, but she couldn’t come up with a big shot today.
“I’m really happy with the way the entire team played. Our No. 1 doubles team lost a tiebreaker after being up 9-2, and that was a big match for Annie and Margot. They played great today and other coaches recognize they’re a good team, too.”
Connor and Hedges eventually bowed to the Glenbrook South team of Elizabeth Hoo and Elle Stewart in a marathon 6-2, 2-6, 17-15 decision, then bounced back to whip Maine South’s Elaine Smith and Simone Starzomski 6-3, 6-3 in the third place match.
At No. 2 doubles, Magid and Hays won 2 of 3 matches, including a 7-5, 6-4 conquest of Maine South’s Julia Nawara and Jillian Sagat to earn the 3rd place medals. Teammates Flint and Altman matched that performance at No. 4 doubles, although it took them three sets to knock off Jenna Kim and Anya Patel of GBS 2-6, 6-4, 10-6.
Abusevich, at No. 3 singles, showed the true grit that could land her a spot in the lineup for next week’s sectional tournament at Niles West. Abusevich claimed a pair of tiebreaker victories and edged out McKenna Kay of GBS 3-6, 6-2, 10-6.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.