It goes without saying that playing in an IHSA state final in any sport – let alone such an intensely individual sport as girls tennis – is a challenge, and there’s not much an athlete can do to prepare for that outside of experiencing it for herself.
Ella Marvel has experienced it and knows what to expect.
Now she’s ready to “do some damage.”
Marvel, the Ottawa High School senior singles ace, singles teammate Sara Meyer and the doubles team of Kyleigh Olszewski and Jenna Smithmeyer were among those state-bound who Tuesday afternoon received their seeding and first-round pairing for the IHSA Class 1A State Finals.
“I remember telling a reporter after I advanced to state my freshman year, ‘I hope I go far,’ when at the time I didn’t know anything about state. It was just a hope, but this year, I’m fairly confident that I can do some damage and make it to Friday and then Saturday. I want to show eve
— Ottawa girls tennis ace Ella Marvel
Marvel is the only local qualifier to earn a seed, drawing the 14th slot in the 1A singles bracket. That has earned her a first-round matchup with Danville Schlarman’s Maya Jenny, a match that will take place at Schaumburg High School. The winner and loser will meet the same from a pairing of Timothy Christian’s Angie Tornabene and Iiiana Meyer of Chicago Christian.
Meyer, meanwhile, will meet up with Kaneland’s Evelyn Taylor in her first match of the tourney at Hersey High School. She then will face the winner/loser of the match between Troy Triad’s Jocelyn Carmody and Quincy Notre Dame’s Lia Quintero.
Olszewski and Smithmeyer have drawn Elgin’s Addison Lanton and Noelle Lanton for their first rounder at Buffalo Grove. The winner/loser will advance against the same of the match between Carmi White County’s Kaeli Burchfield and Liberty Smith versus Elgin’s Audrey Horn and Nora Kelley.
Also of local interest, La Salle-Peru’s Carlie Miller and the doubles team of senior Catherine Engels and junior Ava Lannen know their matches. Miller will face Rockford Lutheran’s Olivia Stram in her opener, also at Schaumburg, while the Cavaliers duo will take on Macy Probst and Isabelle Hemmen of Teutopolis at Palatine.
The Pirates’ two singles players already have experienced the IHSA’s big stage in the suburbs, the latter in singles in 2019 when, after placing fourth at the Ottawa Sectional, she fell to Lake Villa Lakes’ Megan Heuser and Carmi White County’s Marrie Blankenberger.
Marvel has been there twice. As a freshman, she placed first in singles at the OHS Sectional but at state fell to Newton’s Jocelyn Street and Woodstock North’s Aly Cullotta.
In her sophomore year, she advanced in doubles teamed with Regan O’Fallon. After winning three matches Thursday and another Friday, they lost to the eventual state champs, Kendall Schrader and Kaitlyn Lee of Benet Academy. The Pirates twosome won twice on Saturday to place fifth.
“I remember telling a reporter after I advanced to state my freshman year, ‘I hope I go far,’ when at the time I didn’t know anything about state,” Marvel said. “It was just a hope, but this year, I’m fairly confident that I can do some damage and make it to Friday and then Saturday. I want to show everyone how I play.
“I’m a different player now than I was then. I’m more confident in my game, I’m more consistent, I know how to play the game better now, where when I was a freshman I was relying on how athletic I was. Now I actually know how to play the game. I’m a smarter player now.”
Ottawa coach Steve Johnson is confident the experience at state will benefit Marvel and Meyer, both seniors, while providing a fine career capper for Olszewski and a potential look at the future for the junior Smithmeyer.
“We’re gonna go see what we can do,” Johnson said. “I haven’t known all year where Ella really stands. She’s only lost three matches, but they were to not only 2A girls, but ones who will probably be seeded at 2A state – the girl from Sandburg, the girl from Benet are both potential top 16 players in 2A, the girl from Normal is probably playing doubles – so I don’t know what we’ll see in 1A that they will translate to.
“I feel Ella will get some wins, some points, and Sara and the doubles team can do that, too, win a match or two, then we’ll see what happens.
“But we’re excited about the possibilities this week.”