Evelyn Youel was too young when she started playing tennis to fully appreciate what was happening.
Youel just wanted to be a part of what her four older siblings were doing. So when her father Curt, brothers Gabe and Ben, and sisters Maggie and Nelle, or any combination of those five trudged across the street from their home to Crystal Lake Central’s tennis courts, Evelyn tagged along.
Evelyn learned properly how to swing a racket, how to practice hard. Most importantly, she learned how to compete.
“It was more of an advantage than I ever realized,” said Youel, a recent Central graduate. “I probably took so much of it for granted, how many people I had working with me all the time that other kids didn’t have as an option.”
Youel took full advantage of her opportunities. She and doubles partner Jillian Wallace, were the Northwest Herald Players of the Year after finishing sixth in the IHSA girls tennis state tournament. Youel was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection for basketball after finishing in the top two of most statistical categories for the Tigers.
Now, Youel is the Northwest Herald Female Athlete of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from area athletic directors. Dr. Steven Rochell, a surgeon at Crystal Lake Orthopaedics, will donate $2,500 from the Rochell Foundation to Central’s athletic department in Youel’s name. Rochell has made such donations to Female and Male Athlete of the Year winners since 1993.
Youel, who will join Nelle on Northern Illinois University’s tennis team this fall, also earned a GPA of 4.285, which was 28th in her class. Youel is the first Central athlete to win Female Athlete of the Year. The Tigers' Brian Gosnell won the 1995 Male Athlete of the Year Award.
Tigers girls basketball coach Paul Lichtenheld admired how Youel would come to basketball practices in the summer, then leave and go play more tennis. She averaged 9.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game and led Central with 60 steals.
“The stats are awesome, but she was so much more than that to us,” Lichtenheld said. “She’s one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever seen. She was always undersized with whoever she was guarding was taller and she always got the toughest [defensive] assignment. She’s a special athlete, and a better kid.”
Former Central tennis coach Katie Lashbrook said Youel is the full package of what an athlete should be.
“She’s a great leader and a great example to everyone else,” Lashbrook said. “Nelle was a great influence on her. She has a great family, there wasn’t a slouch in the group. Then encompass the whole package. It was exciting for me to guide her along.”
Curt Youel was on the wrestling team at Iowa, although he never competed for the varsity. Therese played on the Hawkeyes’ women’s golf team. They both are teachers, which might explain how Curt, who had no real tennis experience, became a self-made instructor when his children showed interest.
Therese said Curt read books and would get up at 5 a.m. and go to Central’s courts and hit off a ball machine to learn the game.
“He’s a really, really talented coach,” Therese said. “He’s kind of old-school where you don’t have to be a great player yourself. He just kind of gets it.”
Before long, the Youel children got it too.
Ben and Gabe played soccer, wrestled and played tennis in high school. They competed in wrestling and tennis at North Central College, as well. Maggie and Nelle also were three-sport athletes, too (tennis, basketball and soccer). Evelyn did three sports her first two years, but gave up spring sports to work on her tennis game the last two years.
In all, the Youels had 57 seasons of sports at Central, all on the varsity level except a couple junior varsity soccer seasons for Ben and Gabe.
“Evelyn had a huge advantage by the example the older kids set,” Therese said. “Anything Ben and Gabe did, the girls thought they could do too. Even wrestling to an extent.”
Therese remembers the girls heading to Central’s wrestling room during meets and wrestling with the other wrestlers’ little sisters.
“They had a harder workout than some wrestlers in the meet,” Therese said.
Evelyn was sure to thank her teammates, Wallace in particular, and her coaches at Central. She thanked one of the best athletes she ever has seen, the one who sleeps in the same bedroom, Nelle. She thanked her parents for everything they have done for her.
Recently at the Marian Baird Team Cup tournament at the University of Illinois, Youel was talking with other players about their professional teachers.
“They asked me, ‘Who’s your coach?’ ” Evelyn said. “I said, ‘My dad.’ ”