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McDonogh squash champion wears down opponents

U.S. Open

Eleonore Evans certainly knows her way around a squash court. The McDonogh sophomore — one of only two girls on the Eagles' roster — is the newly minted Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association No. 1 position champion after ousting Davis Owen, 3-2, in the final last month, even though Owen's Gilman squad easily captured the team title.

Friends was second and Boys' Latin third in the team chase, followed by St. Paul's, McDonogh, Loyola Blakefield, Calvert Hall and Park.

McDonogh coach Patrice Cromwell said that the match against Owen was "spirited" and close until midway through the final game.

That's when Evans made her move.

"She got on a roll at that point," the coach said. "She had been gaining confidence with each game by the way she was winning volleys."

Because Owen was still recovering from missing playing time because of an injury, Evans' strategy was to try to wear down the Greyhound standout.

"Girls generally can't out-power guys anyway," Cromwell added. "So she was going to try to run him, and because his aerobic conditioning might not have been at its peak. It was just a good, old-fashioned match. Davis is a great kid, athlete and sportsman."

Evans said Cromwell's advice paid off with a victory.

"I kept the ball in the back corners until I had the right opportunity to play an attacking shot," she said. "I was also aiming to have long, extended rallies, because fitness is one of my strengths. I worked up a 7-3 lead, and once I had gained that lead, I started really thinking that I could win it.

"I continued with my strategy of long, deep rallies, and going for the attack when Davis would throw up a loose ball or weak shot," she added. "I could see he was tired, but I kept focused and energized during the final points. I tried to hit tight drop-shots, to make him run when he was feeling most tired. As these shots kept working, I knew I was getting close to the end of the game."

Of all the praise she earned for the win, a congratulatory email from McDonogh alum Pam Shriver may have been the most satisfying.

"I was just blown away," Evans said about the Lutherville native and 1978 U.S. Open women's tennis finalist.

"In addition to squash, I'm also a tennis fan and so I know her legacy and the magnitude of her accomplishments. For her to take the time to email me — it just meant so much. She described her experiences at McDonogh playing on the boys tennis team and having wins over Gilman boys, and how those wins helped her build up to competing on the most elite platform of tennis."

Evans is seeking another big prize when she competes at the U.S. Junior Closed championships March 14-16 at Princeton University.

The 16-year-old Towson resident is currently ranked second nationally in the girls Under-17 division.

In order to keep such a lofty perch on the national pecking order, Evans hopes to be at her best.

"I started playing squash when I was around age 8," said Evans, who also plays lacrosse for the Eagles. "My parents belonged to Meadow Mill (Athletic Club, near Hampden), and as I got older, I decided to try squash lessons and have loved it ever since."

She's enamored with the sport enough to sacrifice much of her free time in order to hone already advanced skills.

"Eleonore trains five or six days a week," said her mother, Sarah, who played tennis for Princeton. "She probably spends about two hours a day drilling, training or playing."

Although the high school season is just a small part of the her overall commitment to the sport, it's still something that motivates the Eagle star.

"Being part of the team is what she loves about school squash," her mother said. "Even though it's hard for her to balance her own training with school practices, she would never give up playing for McDonogh."

Cromwell said that "Eleonore really stands out as a fierce competitor, but one who is humble and eager to learn."

And one boasting four Junior Championship Tour event finals and two championships already on her résumé.

She had regularly finished as a semifinalist in most of those tourneys, failing to do so only a couple of times.

Moreover, Evans grabbed third place at the Junior U.S. Open last year and reached the quarterfinal round in this year's event that boasts players from as far away as Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa, Columbia, Guatemala and England — to name a few of the international countries represented.

"It is my 'down' year, in which I am younger than some of the other girls,' she said. "So to break through to the quarterfinals (top eight) was exciting."

She said her most important achievement was losing in the final of the U.S. National Championships.

"I lost in five games in the final, and making the finals last years has been the highlight of my squash career thus far," she said.

The Towson teen was also a member of the U.S. Junior National team that competed against a similar squad from Canada a couple of years ago.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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