Joyce Anderson’s summer tennis camp just before the Evanston girls head coach held her preseason tryouts produced the usual number of hopefuls who were attempting to make an impression on the coach before tryouts for the high school team even began.
But it was a freshman with virtually no competitive experience who gained Anderson’s attention, a player who had no intentions of trying out for the ETHS varsity.
So the fact that Anderson wound up on the same side of the net as incoming freshman Lucinda Lindland during one of the camp drills was no coincidence. And the ETHS coach planted a seed for a player who may blossom into a special player some day for the Wildkits.
Lindland has already earned one of the top singles spots in the Evanston lineup and helped the Wildkits win their Central Suburban League South division opener against Niles North Tuesday by a 5-2 margin. Playing in the No. 2 singles position, Lindland defeated North’s Zarina Sayed 7-5, 6-2 and upped her season record to 3-7 on the year.
That may not be a record worthy of a state tournament seed, but it also doesn’t reflect the progress made by Lindland in her first year of organized competition. Three of her losses came at the Deerfield Invitational tournament last weekend when Anderson moved her to the No. 1 slot because so many of her teammates were absent taking the ACT exam.
Lindland has played at the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 singles slots so far and if the sectional tournament started this week, Anderson would have her in the postseason lineup in singles.
“The second she showed up at the camp, I went over and asked her who she was and where she played,” Anderson recalled. “She had gone to a camp at Carthage College, but she didn’t have much of a background beyond that.
“I could see that she was very athletic. Her athleticism and her movement stood out to me, because she plays very loose and has a very fluid swing that’s hard to find. So at the camp I was looking for a moment to talk to her in private. Whenever I see a kid who has potential like that, I always ask them to at least try out for the varsity. Usually they do if they hear that from me.”
“I wasn’t really thinking about trying out for the varsity at that point,” said Lindland. “I didn’t want to make a fool of myself going up against all of those girls with more experience than me. But after she said that, I thought, I might as well try it.
“I really wasn’t expecting to make the varsity because all of those girls play U.S. (USTA) tennis and I have no experience, except for a couple of camps I went to, and hitting with my Dad and my Mom. I really don’t have much competitive experience at all. I have mostly played soccer since I was 7 and I’m really excited to play soccer in high school.”
Once preseason practice began, Lindland started climbing the lineup ladder. The fact that Anderson has all but decided recently to shift the squad’s No. 1 singles player, senior Margot Connor, permanently to doubles created a domino effect in the lineup and will likely leave senior Valerie Abushevich and senior Ella Kanter battling with Lindland for the two postseason singles berths.
“I think Lucinda’s biggest strength right now is that she can play those long points,” the coach said. “She’s shown that she can get the ball back 1,000 times in a row if she has to. Our hope is always that girls will come in with more experience, but I’ve already seen lots of improvement in Lucinda.
“She still has a lot of work to do, on her serve and on finishing shots, and she still needs to learn to hit those putaway shots more consistently. But I know she’s going to improve by leaps and bounds.”
Starting a new academic and athletic career at the same time has been a challenge for Lindland, who knows her game is still a work in progress.
“The biggest adjustment for me is how the matches can be so long, and I’m still getting used to that,” said the freshman. “And the other surprise for me has been how all of the seniors on the team have been so super nice to me. Whenever I have a question, and I have a lot of questions, they’re always there to help me.
“I got so frustrated in the first set today and I think my first serve was only in about 20 percent of the time. But once I got going and figured out what to do, I did fine, and my serve really has improved a lot.”
Tuesday, Lindland broke out to a 5-2 advantage in the first set against Niles North sophomore Sayed, only to suffer a rash of unforced errors that allowed Sayed back into the match at 5-all. Lindland regrouped with a forehand winner in the 11th game, then clinched the set on Sayed’s misfire.
In the second set, Lindland scored marathon wins in the first and second games and outclassed the older and more experienced Sayed.
The Wildkits had to shuffle their lineup after Connor called in sick, but still scored two singles wins and three doubles triumphs Tuesday. Kanter topped Abby Parrish 6-2, 6-2 for Evanston’s other singles victory.
In doubles, ETHS ruled at the No.2, No. 3 and No. 4 positions. Sophia Demopoulos and Leah Altman whipped the North team of June Bering/Victoria Kielb 6-0, 6-1; Lily Magid and Mary Hays tripped Hannah Freireich and Alexia Galinsky 6-0, 6-2; and Julia Demopoulos and Zoe Coleman teamed up for a 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Alina Riyaz and Melissa Leancu.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.