MISSOULA — In a city with a rich tradition of high school tennis stars, Evelyn Demblans Dechans shines brightest today.
Not just because she won the State B-C girls singles championship and helped her Missoula Loyola team take top honors as a freshman last spring. It's more about this spring and the way she has responded to the bad news that her sophomore season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The outdoor courts in and around Missoula have stayed mostly quiet through April and May. But Demblans Dechans has not missed a beat with her practicing, showing a level of tennis passion that makes it easy to understand why she's so successful.
"I definitely think about how this week would have been state and it kind of bums me out a bit," said the sophomore. "We would have had a solid opportunity to take state as a team and then me in singles as well.
"But I also know there's next season. I'm going to try my best to win again. I have to train for that one."
Demblans Dechans hits the hard courts four or five times a week, but that's just part of her yearly training regimen. She also pitches in as a role player in two other sports for the Breakers.
This past school year she provided depth at the forward position for the undefeated Loyola basketball team. In the fall, she helped the Breakers reach the State A soccer quarterfinals after they notched their first league title.
"Evelyn is without a doubt one of the hardest-working high school athletes I have seen anywhere," Loyola tennis coach Patti Danforth said. "And she trains for tennis year around.
"I think (Peak pro) Jan (Steenekamp) has really helped her develop that love for the game. Even now she's out there hitting with her little sister, working with Jan and she does her cardio and weight training outside of whatever practices she has going on. She's so dedicated and always has a positive attitude."
Working hard is a little harder when there's no big events planned for the near future. A lot of the United States Tennis Association tournaments that Demblans Dechans typically plays in the late spring and early summer have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, she remains undaunted.
"Winning state last year gave me a lot of confidence and made we want to win even more," she said. "I've been working harder and pushing myself.
"I'm looking to qualify for as many big tournaments as I can now, shooting for national stuff and hoping to get up in the rankings. There's usually a big tournament in Florida — clay court nationals in mid-July and I played it last year and got a win. It's too bad they canceled it this year."
Demblans Dechans has lofty goals for the future. After two more seasons of high school tennis, she'd love to compete on the NCAA Division I college level. Much like legendary pro Serena Williams, Evelyn has the advantage of being to able to hit with her younger sister, Remi, who is also a dedicated tennis player.
Like Demblans Dechans, Danforth believes the Breakers would have been in the running for a repeat team title. Grace Daniels would have also scored a lot of singles points at state.
"We would have been in the hunt for a team trophy, for sure," Danforth said.