July 18, 2024
Illinois High School Sports

Girls tennis: Oswego sophomore Savannah Millard, with a heavy heart, motivated to top last year’s state result

Millard, 29-4 and sectional runner-up, playing for her ‘biggest supporter,’ her late grandmother

Oswego's Savannah Millard returns in her match at the Plainfield North Girls Tennis Invite.  Oct 4th, 2023.

During Savannah Millard’s toughest moments in a tennis match, she listens to her grandmother’s words of advice in her ear.

The woman she called “Ga” was her biggest supporter. Her grandmother and her “Papa” were the two people that started Millard, an Oswego sophomore, in tennis at 4 years old.

“She’d always say ‘Take a deep breath and scratch your back,’” Millard said. “It’s a tennis term, to throw your racket over your shoulder and scratch your back. That is what I tell myself to refocus, is to take a deep breath and scratch my back.”

This fall has been as difficult a tennis season as Millard can remember for who she has lost. It is also triumphant for how she has persevered and won.

Millard’s grandmother, her “Ga” died in September. It has changed Millard’s motivation, and perspective. She now is playing tennis as good as ever.

Millard, who as a freshman became Oswego’s first state tennis qualifier since 2009, has continued to take her game to new heights. She has a 29-4 record on the season, took second to the No. 1-ranked player in the state at both conference and sectionals, and headed back to state for the second time this week.

With a heavy heart, and steely determination.

“My grandma passing away, it’s a huge motivation to do better at sectionals and state,” Millard said. “She was always my biggest supporter for sure. Every point, every match I am playing for her. But I’m also playing for myself and my team and to represent Oswego as well.”

Millard went on to go 2-2 at state, winning her first and third matches and advancing to the second day.

Millard dropped both matches at state last season, so a goal right off the bat is to win a couple matches and advance to Friday. Oswego coach James Melton likes her chances.

“She is playing at a really high level right now, has nothing but confidence going into the state tournament. I think she is playing her best tennis of the year,” Melton said. “She proved that at conference and sectionals, but I think she has another level that she can get to at state. I’m excited to see what happens.”

Millard, for her part, believes she is in a better place and more prepared for state the second time around.

“Last year, state, it was not a great experience,” Millard said. “I’m much more focused on what I need to accomplish this year. My goal is to do better than last year.”

Millard won 22 matches in a superb freshman year, but her encore season has been even better. Not hard to see why. Melton noted that she puts in 15-20 hours a week over the summer, and after practice at high school will go for private lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“She is a testament to the idea that hard work leads to great results,” Melton said. “She’s just put in a ton of time.”

“I definitely think that I have played better than last year,” Millard said. “My mindset and how I control my ball on the court is different. I would says that I have grown in my personal life and tennis life. It’s impacted me in a greater way.”

Millard is no stranger to tennis at the highest level statewide. Three of her four losses have come to Plainfield North’s Jessica Kovalcik, the defending state runner-up and the No. 1 seed in the singles draw.

“They’re good friends, play at the same club, they know each other well,” Melton said. “Jessica is an excellent tennis player and a great example, part of the reason Savannah keeps pushing herself.”

The state tournament runs Thursday through Saturday at various courts throughout the northern suburbs. Millard, with a mind toward moving through the bracket, isn’t getting ahead of herself.

“My mom always tells me one point, one game, one match at a time – don’t look at the future, focus on the present,” Millard said. “I’ll do what I do best. Whatever happens, happens.”

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.