Ellis relives earliest memories of tennis, and where it's taken her

Ellis relives earliest memories of tennis, and where it's taken her

DANVILLE — Lauren Ellis can spend ample time telling you about her family's tennis roots.

How she grew up watching brother Tyler and sister Taylor, both of whom competed at Danville High School — where Lauren is now.

How she kept an eye on Tyler's two years hitting the courts for Olivet Nazarene.

And how she's borrowed elements from her brother and sister that she applies to her own game today.

Still, Lauren Ellis was caught off guard when learning about an old News-Gazette photo capturing some of her earliest years inside the white lines.

At a 2005 tennis camp for fourth through eighth graders at Danville Tennis Center, a 4-year-old Ellis was snapped rounding up stray balls along with another girl.

Ellis laughed at this information, but wasn't surprised by it. There's a fair chance she was hanging out with at least one of her siblings.

"I'd go to all of (Tyler's) matches. I'd make cookies for every single one," Ellis said. "I watched him and my sister for years. They've always been big role models."

Now, it's Ellis' turn to take on that position.

She's the lone returning News-Gazette All-Area girls' tennis first-team athlete, a 2017 state singles qualifier in Class 2A and a senior standout for Vikings coach Mark Bacys ahead of Saturday's season-opening Charger Invitational in Champaign hosted by Centennial.

"I feel as a player, I've gotten a lot more confident," Ellis said. "Coming in, I played one (singles) as a freshman, which can be intimidating at times. As I've gotten older ... I've started to become more aggressive and less timid."

Ellis also suits up on the soccer field for Danville in the spring, but she fell in love with tennis thanks to her familial connections.

Tyler Ellis was a four-time state qualifier — three times in doubles, once in singles — with the Vikings before graduating in 2012. Taylor Ellis earned two singles berths and one doubles bid at state prior to finishing high school in 2015.

"When I first started, I always loved playing with them even though they would crush me," Lauren Ellis said. "As I started getting better, it would just get more fun when I was competitive with them."

Ellis is seeking her fourth state appearance in as many years; the first came in doubles, the more recent pair in singles.

She's also trying to do something neither Tyler nor Taylor achieved: play in the third and final day of state.

"Last year, I actually had a second chance at a girl I played the year before (in Rockford Guilford's Nicole Christiansen) who beat me pretty badly," Ellis said. "I ended up beating her, which was a really cool moment because it's only a year's difference. And I had another close match, so that's really motivating coming into senior year."

Ellis is hoping for some friendly company during the mid-October 2A state series. Last season, then-freshman Erin Houpt soared into the state singles field alongside her older teammate.

Ellis feels there could be even more in store for this year's Vikings.

"I have some big hopes for our team," Ellis said. "We have some girls playing this summer who really decided to start getting serious when the season came around."

Ellis also isn't expecting her tennis career to come to an end in a couple months. She's seeking out colleges at which she can both play the sport and study speech pathology.

"(Tennis is) just such a big part of my life," Ellis said. "I can't imagine not having practices and being part of a team."