The quarterfinal doubles match for Evanston’s Maddie Pollard and Linden Wadsworth lasted two and a half hours Saturday at the Class 2A Niles West Sectional tournament.

But a 4-0 lead in the second set seemed to slip away in the blink of an eye.

The Evanston duo fell one win short of advancing to the Illinois High School Association state tennis tournament, suffering a 7-6 (4), 7-5 setback at the hands of Niles West’s Niki Manojlovic and Katarina Pljevaljcic.

ETHS girls tennis team 2022
ETHS girls tennis team 2022 at Class 2A Niles West Sectional tournament. Credit: via @ETHSports

Pollard, a senior, and Wadsworth, a freshman, faded after building a big lead. Instead, the Niles West pair went on to place third and claimed one of four automatic state qualifying berths.

Evanston finished fifth in the nine-team field with six points. New Trier, behind a 1-2 finish in both singles and doubles, ruled the team standings with 36 points to 16 for runner up Loyola Academy.

Both Wildkit standouts were competing in the biggest matches of their respective high school careers. And the plan put into place by ETHS head coach Leanne Baker, who switched Wadsworth from the school’s No. 1 singles slot to doubles play just a couple of weeks ago, seemed to be paving a path to state for both players.

But they couldn’t finish the deal on a chilly morning in Skokie.

“The nerves are always there when you’re playing for something as important as this,” Baker said. “I think the moment just got too big for them and they over-thought things out there. And Niles West played great – that was probably their best match of the year – and all the credit goes to them. We did what we could, it just wasn’t enough.

“We knew at some point that the sectional wasn’t going to be crazy strong this year and we thought we could get a doubles team through. It looked easier in doubles. They won the matches they needed to win [4-1 record during the regular season] to get that No. 3 seed, and they deserved it. I thought they jelled really well as a team right from the start.”

That top four seed earned a first-round bye on Friday. Then Pollard/Wadsworth eliminated the Lane Tech duo of Logan Kane and Nova Gladden by a 6-1, 6-0 margin in the second round to advance to the quarterfinals.

But a slow start Saturday morning forced the pair into an uphill battle, down 2-0 right from the start of the first set. They finally caught Niles West at 5-5 in a marathon game, scoring the last two adds to force a deadlock, and actually grabbed a 6-5 advantage behind a backhand winner by Pollard.

Manojlovic and Pljevalcic, however, rose to the occasion to force a 6-6 tie and never trailed in the tiebreaker portion of the set.

In the second set, West’s mostly unforced errors helped Pollard and Wadsworth build that 4-0 advantage. But then the roller coaster ride continued with multiple ETHS mistakes that eventually led to elimination.

Evanston’s other entries in singles and doubles mustered only one win among them. The doubles team of Sophie Glantz and Mia Tingley, after blanking Senn 6-0, 6-0 in the tourney opener, lost to Mary Olson and Alexia Rau of Lane Tech 7-5, 2-6, 3-6 in the second round.

In singles, Maggie Cummins lost to the No. 1 seed and eventual champion Madison Liu of New Trier 6-0, 6-0 and Josephine Layden bowed out with a 6-1, 6-4 loss to Sobia Shethwala of Niles North, the No. 3 seed and eventual third place finisher.