Evanston’s girls tennis program entered the 2019 season with a resume that included 6 straight years sending qualifiers to the Illinois High School Association state tournament.
Sisters Sophia and Julia Demopoulos did their best to extend that school record streak Saturday at the Niles North Sectional tournament, but fell one victory short of continuing on the postseason path. In a matchup that had to be continued from Friday to Saturday due to darkness, the Demopoulos duo dropped a 3-set heartbreaker to Niles North’s Lisa Duan and Iasmina Farcas in doubles play and saw their season come to an end.
The two teams split in Friday’s competition with North scoring a 7-6 victory in the first set only to see the ETHS sisters rule the second set with a 6-4 triumph.
But Demopoulos/Demopoulos were unable to maintain that momentum from one day to the next, and fell 6-2 in the second round.
“That team (Niles North) just didn’t let them play well,” said ETHS first-year head coach Leanne Baker. “They hardly missed a ball today.
“It was the right call yesterday (to halt play on account of darkness), but it was unfortunate for us because I felt like we were on a roll when we won that second set. That’s tennis for you — it’s a roller coaster ride. But I was pleasantly surprised because they beat a very tough Loyola team in their first match. To play well enough just to be in this position is awesome!”
Wins were hard to come by this fall for Sophia, a senior, and Julia, a sophomore, in what in general was a rebuilding year for a program that was hit hard by graduation losses. The move up to playing on the No. 1 doubles court — especially in a loaded conference — was a bigger challenge for the pair than trying to get along on the court.
“Playing with Julia was so much different than any other partner I’ve had,” said Sophia Demopoulos. “Because she’s my sister I can talk to her a little differently, and even yell at her when I need to. It’s a lot more emotional.
“I started out playing with Zoe Coleman, but we’re both quiet so that didn’t work that well. My sister is loud (outgoing personality) and so we matched up pretty well.”
The senior standout admitted that continuing a crucial match with a berth at State at stake over a two-day stretch was an unusual challenge in her high school tennis career.
“It was tough,” Demopoulos said. “Yesterday I felt like I was playing well, hitting shots well, and we were on a roll. It was tough to get that rhythm today.”
The duo staged a remarkable comeback to eliminate Loyola Academy’s Caroline Humphrey and Keara Silk in the first round on Friday. Trailing 4-1 in the second set — just two games away from being ousted themselves — the Demopoulos girls scored a dramatic 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 win, taking the last 3 games to stay alive.
“At the beginning of that match we weren’t as aggressive. I think we thought since we were playing Loyola’s No. 2 team, we could beat them and not have to focus as much,” Demopoulos said. “When we got to the second set, we knew we had to step it up.”
Evanston placed 5th in the sectional team standings with 6 points as the other doubles entry, the team of Coleman and Danielle Kuo, and singles entry Ellie Wilson all scored first round wins.
Coleman and Kuo advanced past North Shore Country Day by a 6-4, 6-4 margin and then lost 6-0, 6-0 to the eventual champs from New Trier, Ashtin Hara and Monika Glueck.
Wilson scored a 3-set (6-3, 3-6, 6-1) triumph over Abby Parrish of Niles North, then exited with a 6-0, 6-0 loss to Abby Penados of Niles West.
Evanston’s other singles participant, Danina Hughes, was edged out 7-5, 6-2 by Loyola’s Sarah Clingan.
“Absolutely, I’m happy with the way we played this year,” said Baker, who moved up to the varsity post after coaching at ETHS on the lower levels. “We lost a lot of seniors, and for some of these girls to get the experience of playing at the conference tournament and at the sectional, that’s really huge.”