In the final match in the state tournament, senior Elizabeth Wilcox and sophomore Stephanie Wilcox are playing fellow teammates junior Meredith Shackleford and freshman Aiden Epstein for the title. As the game is coming to a close, both sisters find each other at the net. With a swish of a racquet, the final point is scored and the sisters hug each other with relief.
“We worked so hard together,” Stephanie said. “It was just really emotional.”
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Elizabeth started playing tennis when she was nine, after her mother, Katherine, signed her up for group lessons at Overland Park Racquet Club. What started out as just another after school activity turned into a passion with every improvement.
“I could see myself improving,” Elizabeth said. “I also liked the tournaments and all the people I played with, so that kind of made me want to keep doing it.”
By the time Elizabeth was 13, she was competing in tournaments all over the Midwest in Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri. Around this time, her younger sister, Stephanie, who was 10 at the time, also started to play tennis. From then on, tennis became the family sport.
When Elizabeth entered high school, she knew she wanted to continue playing tennis. She made the varsity team as a freshman and has played all four years.
As she entered her last season at East, Elizabeth found out Stephanie would be her new doubles partner. For the first time, the sisters would be playing competitively together. According to Stephanie, it was nerve wracking to know she would be defending the state championship title with her sister.
“I was excited because she had been a state champion two previous years,” Stephanie said. “It was a big spot to fill.”
Both sisters attribute part of their success to their close relationship. Being sisters helped give them extra time to practice together at home or to talk strategy. They would spend extra time at home practicing with their dad as he would feed them the ball or run drills with them.
“We know each other really well and we know our strengths and weaknesses,” Elizabeth said. “It’s really easy to talk to each other and we understand each other really well.”
Even though being doubles partners had its advantages, they also found it difficult at times to play together. They often found themselves carrying petty arguments into practice or getting frustrated with each other when they made mistakes. The main issue they both said was having no filter when it came to pointing out each other’s faults. They had to focus on treating each other like friends on the court rather than sisters.
According to coach Sue Chipman, this is common for siblings who play together, and the Wilcox sisters were no exception.
“[Playing with siblings] a lot of times can cause more problems,” Chipman said. “With siblings you get to that level where they blame each other for mistakes.”
Not having a filter caused them to get frustrated with each other every time a tennis ball was missed by a racquet. The usual “that’s ok”s or “no big deal”s were gone during their matches together. Now they were replaced with statements like, “Oh my god, you shouldn’t have missed that!”
Even though they had problems during the season they pulled it together for state. Once they realized they were playing another team from East, most of the nerves vanished; After that final point the sisters embraced each other with relief. As they walked off the court, their career as doubles partners came to an end.
That game-winning point not only won the state championship but also won Elizabeth’s last point of her high school career. Stephanie was greeted with excitement and uncertainty for next season.
“[Next year] will be a lot different,” Stephanie said. “There will definitely be changes that will have to be made. We aren’t sure what’s even going to happen next year.”
The memories they made together as sisters on the court will always remain.
“[It will mean a lot] being able to look back on it when we’re older,” Elizabeth said. “Being able to remember us playing doubles together and us winning state.”