Written by Dennis Mahoney.
Evanston’s stay at the Illinois High School Association state girls tennis tournament on a chilly Thursday was too short.
Wait ‘til next year --- when two of the three girls representing the Wildkits, sophomores Jessica Ampel and Kate Kremin, could return.
Ampel, Kremin and senior Olivia Luby combined for a pair of victories in less-than-ideal playing conditions Thursday before exiting tournament play.
Luby and Kremin combined for a 1-2 doubles record in three matches, while Ampel won in the consolation round before also being eliminated.
For Luby, just qualifying for State was the crowning achievement to her four year career in a Wildkit uniform. But underclassmen like Ampel and Kremin can use the state tournament experience as a building block for future success, and maybe a more extended stay in the three-day tourney test .
“This was such a great experience for our sophomores, and Olivia achieved her dream by getting her as a senior,” said Evanston coach Joyce Chang Anderson, bundled up almost beyond recognitions as the wind chill dropped the temperature down into the 30-degree range. “Being at State is something that’s exciting to be a part of, and now I think a lot of our girls realize that we belong here.
“I think all of the girls came in a little nervous this morning, and our doubles girls were a little intimidated warming up next to all of these strong teams. But next year they won’t be nervous after the experience they got here today.”
Ampel, who has been Evanston’s No. 1 singles player throughout her short career, went 1-2 in the three singles matches she played at Hoffman Estates High School. She opened with a 6-0, 6-2 loss to Gaby Rosales of Marian Catholic, bounced back to trim Sarah Rosen of Rockford Boylan 6-4, 6-0, and then was eliminated with a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Gaby Schoenberg of Grant.
“It was so cool for me to be here with all of the best players, and it was definitely a boost for my confidence,” Ampel said. “I had a really good week the week of the sectional tournament, so I came in here feeling pretty good.
“At the end of the season I played some really good girls and I also had some confidence issues. The mental game is definitely a problem for me sometimes. But today I played pretty well in the first match, then in the second match (against Boylan’s Rosen) I was pretty much out of it mentally at first. But once I got into the match, I said I’m not gonna lose.”
Ampel actually led the second set against Schoenberg before being ousted. “I was up 3-1 and I had her in that second set,” said the ETHS sophomore. “Then I played a service game that I shouldn’t have and lost, and I let her back in it.”
Teammates Luby and Kremin, meanwhile, weren’t able to maintain some early momentum they built at the doubles competition hosted by Buffalo Grove High School. The Wildkit duo blanked Rachel Kaiser and Sara Stremming of Mattoon by a 6-0, 6-0 margin in their debut, but things went downhill for the pair after that with back-to-back losses to Samantha Sherman/Meghan Hickey of Lyons Township (6-3, 6-1) and Rachel Rettger and Jenna Brambora of Glenbard South (6-0, 6-1).
In the finale, Evanston dropped eight straight games before a blistering forehand winner by Luby salvaged at least one game in the second set.
The consensus opinion of the Evanston coaching staff is that Ampel’s best days as a player are definitely ahead of her.
“At the beginning of the season I felt like I still had to prove myself after last year, because I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities I had against some girls,” she noted. “I wanted to come out and take some sets from the girls I lost to, and I was able to do that the first half of the season.
“Compared to last year, I got a lot more topspin on my shot and I also played more patient. I started slicing more and using more of a variety of shots, and that really helped me. It gave me more guts to switch things up over the course of a match, too.
“My goal this year was to get to State, and I wanted to win at least once. Next year, I’ll have bigger goals.”
Editor's Note: This article was edited to correct the score of Ampel's match against Rosales. We sincerely regret the error.