Northern Illinois women’s tennis coach Ryun Ferrell has derived plenty of joy this season from watching Nelle Youel’s game.
“If she wasn’t on this team, I probably would’ve quit coaching a while ago,” Ferrell said. “She’s rejuvenated my career. She makes me want to do a better job.”
The excitement Youel has created around NIU’s tennis program by winning 50 matches has come, in large part, from making opponents miserable.
“She gets them just to hate life,” Ferrell said. “She makes them want to get off the court as fast as possible. It’s fun to watch her get her hooks into somebody.”
Youel’s grueling style has paid immense dividends.
On April 25, the Crystal Lake Central graduate became the first NIU women’s player to earn first-team All-Mid-American Conference honors since 2002. Her 50 combined wins in singles and doubles includes 27 victories at No. 1 singles.
That total surpassed the school record of Natacha Koprivica, which was established in 1988-89.
“It makes me proud to see how far my hard work has taken me,” Youel said. “I wasn’t a year-round tennis player until I came to college. It’s nice to make big improvements.”
Much of Youel’s success has come from endurance and determination.
“Every day, she gives me everything she has,” Ferrell said. “She is so strong and she can last forever. I’ve never had to yell at her. I’ve never had to chew her out. … People have said we need five more of her. I don’t know that five more of her exist.”
Youel, who describes her game as “feisty,” gets into opponents’ heads with a mix of attitude and skill.
“Every match at No. 1 is a daunting task,” she said. “You’re not going to play your best tennis every single day. I do some fist pumps and I yell. I try to get [opponents] to know that there aren’t going to be any easy points. That’s my goal.”
She even admits to tricking her own mind into thinking matches won’t be easy.
“I tell myself that they’re going to be really long matches,” she said. “And if they’re any shorter than three, 3 1/2 hours, that’s great.”
Extending matches with long, consistent rallies is Youel’s hallmark and often draws the most feedback from opposing players.
“The best compliment I have gotten is when people say, ‘I hate playing you,’” she said. “I’ve had teammates tell me that. There’s a girl from Bowling Green, and we played a four-and-a-half hour match in a summer tournament. She told me that too.”
Youel is planning more long matches this summer on a regional circuit for top college players.
“The main [goal] is becoming more of an all-around player and not just a threat from the baseline,” she said.
Ferrell said his hope is for Youel to get to the net more in matches and “not just to go to the net to shake hands.”
Along with helping the team improve on its 14-10 record this season – the most wins since 1997 – Ferrell said he expects Youel to make a leap to NCAA tournament singles qualification.
“I really think she can do that,” he said.
Top thrower: Kamile Udrenaite, a sophomore at D-III Concordia University Chicago, was named the Northern Athletics Conference Women’s Field Event Athlete of the Meet last weekend after the league’s outdoor track and field championships.
Udrenaite, a Crystal Lake South grad, won the shot put (39 feet, 9¾ inches) and hammer throw (142-8) at the NAC meet. She finished second in the discus (129-2) to scored 28 team points for Concordia, the highest total for any individual field athlete.
Udrenaite set school records at the April 26 Benedictine University Twilight Invitational in the hammer throw (145-9) and the shot put (40-5). The effort at Benedictine earned Udrenaite the NAC’s Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Week honor.
Cornell standout: Abby Haubold, a junior catcher at D-III Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, was selected to the All-Midwest Conference first team in softball this week.
Haubold, a Woodstock grad, batted .393 this season for the Rams (23-15) while starting 21 times behind the plate. She also had four doubles, 11 RBIs and a .459 slugging percentage for the season. In 156 chances in the field, Haubold did not commit an error this season.
On Sunday, Cornell won the MWC Tournament championship for the first time in school history, thanks to a 2-for-4 performance from Haubold in a 9-0 victory against Lawrence University. The victory earned Cornell a berth in the NCAA tournament, another program first. The seventh-seeded Rams are competing this weekend in the eight-team Pella (Iowa) Regional tournament.
Superb Star: Crystal Lake South grad Emily Mahoney was honored this spring as the Northern Athletics Conference Pitcher of the Year in softball.
Mahoney, a senior at D-III Dominican University in River Grove, earned first-team all-conference honors by leading the NAC in victories (21) and strikeouts (251).
Mahoney also batted a team-best .348 with three homers and 21 RBIs.
As a pitcher, Mahoney was 21-8 with a 1.95 ERA. Her school-record strikeout total was only 10 shy of the NAC record.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.