BY PATRICK KELLEY
Champaign Saint Thomas More senior Abby Demlow had her back to the wall.
After losing her first set 6-0, and being down five games to one in the second set, the Sabres’ No. 1 player had one last chance to extend her match against Danville High School’s No. 1, Taylor Ellis, who held a 40-love lead in the second set's final game.
Demlow lobbed the bright yellow tennis ball toward the overcast sky as she delivered the match point serve. The ball popped off of her racket, and sailed into the net. She had one more shot to keep the match alive against the junior, but her second serve produced the same result, a ball in the net, and a double fault, to give Danville their first of six singles match victories in their shutout over St. Thomas More Monday night at the Danville Tennis Center.
The marquee matchup between Ellis and Demlow was decided in straight sets 6-0 and 6-1, with Demlow’s lone victory coming in the first game of the second set. After Ellis lost her only game of the night, she charged back, not letting any of the next six games go to deuce.
“I just try to think through one point at a time, so even if I get down a point not to let it turn into games,” Ellis said after winning her first start as Danville’s No.1 player. “I just tried to keep the ball in play and not let the points get to me. If you think about the last point that you lost, you’re more likely to lose more points. Then, it’s more nerve-racking.”
Monday’s competition featured six singles matches followed by three doubles matches, all of which were won by the Vikings.
While the singles matches were played in the traditional format, the doubles matches were contested in a system of scoring known as the pro set. In this style, the dueling duos play first to eight wins needing to win the match by two games.
Danville’s No.1 doubles pairing, Rachael and Becca Lewis, only needed eight games – five of which were decided at love — to dispense of Saint Thomas More’s doubles squad, Demlow and Maddie King. Throughout the match, the sisters talked to each other between points, but they also utilized a few unorthodox methods to send their opponents packing.
“We do (hand signals). Not a lot of people do it,” Rachael said. “We have two hand signals, one is for where we’re going to serve the ball and the second is whether the person at the net is going to poach and try to get the ball or stay.”
But the sisters didn't allow three of their serves to be returned. Rachael, a senior, delivered one ace, while her sister, a junior, smoked two of her own.
Even though they didn't drop a single game, the sisters didn't consider this their most significant win.
“The team we played last weekend was top 32 in state,” Becca said. “We’ve won 6-0, 6-0 in a couple tournaments this year. … (Winning) 8-0 was our goal.”
Going into the matchup, Danville coach, Mark Bacys’, strategy was to prepare his team for the future, which meant getting more players involved. The senior-laden squad is rich in experience, but Bacys was looking to throw the team’s younger players into competition to prepare them for the future.
“We want to get the girls who are going to play in sectionals a match,” Bacys said. “Number one and two singles players are going to play in sectionals and then our number one and two doubles teams are also going to play in sectionals. … We also want to get the young players ready to play because they are going to have to step up and compete next year.”
With the win, the Vikings improve to 4-2 while the Sabres fell to 2-4.