By David Pan Weekly Herald sports editor
While it might be an overstatement to say 2012 saw a changing of the guard in the local high school girls tennis scene, three new players have made impressive debuts for their respective teams.
Edmonds-Woodway, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace all have freshmen playing at No. 1 singles this season.
Myint-Zu Kyaw has compiled a 5-4 overall singles record for the Warriors (8-3 in the Western Conference 4A South Division), who are battling Kamiak (9-1) for the league title.
While the Hawks and Royals don’t have quite as many team victories as their district rival, both squads are experiencing much more success than in past years in part because of their No. 1 freshman singles players.
Mountlake Terrace’s Nicole Bouche (5-5 in singles, 1-0 in doubles) has helped her team to a 6-5 record in the Wesco 3A, while Monica Kwong (8-2 in singles) has led Lynnwood to a 4-7 league mark.
The Royals posted three wins the last two seasons combined. The Hawks won only two matches those two years.
For Bouche, tennis can best be described as a family passion. Older brother Rhett and older sister Teryn both were standout singles players during their high school careers.
The youngest of the Bouches didn’t come into the season necessarily thinking she would be following in her siblings’ footsteps. She was aiming to be among the team’s top four singles players.
“I really had no idea I would be playing No. 1 singles,” Bouche said. “It’s actually a nice surprise. … It’s a great opportunity.
“Being a freshman at No. 1 singles is a big deal and it’s a lot of pressure.”
Bouche’s concerns, however, were eased when she talked with her family, including Teryn and Rhett. They told her to just do her best and have fun. If she won a couple of matches, they would be proud of her, Bouche said.
The Mountlake Terrace freshman drew inspiration from watching her siblings through the years.
“They both played No. 1 singles when they were in high school, so I saw a lot of their matches,” Bouche said. “So that kind of got me motivated.”
Bouche’s parents, Gini and Rich, also play tennis. Rich is more of a recreational player, while Gini still competes in United States Tennis Association sanctioned matches. Gini was a member of the University of Washington women’s tennis team.
“We have a lot of family doubles,” Bouche said. “We have great matches in our family. Our whole family is kind of tennis crazy.”
Bouche started hitting the tennis ball with her mother but got serious about the sport in the seventh grade when she started taking lessons.
“I really wanted to get better,” Bouche said.
She spends her weekends at the Harbor Square Athletic Club participating in clinics and taking lessons.
If she had a question about her game, Bouche doesn’t hesitate to talk to her mother. But Gini lets her daughter come to her with her concerns.
“She doesn’t meddle too much with it,” Bouche said. “She’s really good about it. I’ll ask her advice about matches – what I’m doing right and wrong – and she’ll give it to me.”
Mountlake Terrace coach Alberto Ramirez describes Bouche as a player wise beyond her years.
“To have someone with her maturity as a tennis player is very rare, at least for the Mountlake Terrace program,” he said. “We don’t get to see that too often. She has played enough tennis before she got here and she has played in tournaments. So it’s just a matter of getting control of her nerves.
“She has the shots. She’s very smart. She knows the mental part of the game. She has, for her age, a very broad knowledge of the mental part. She knows what it takes to beat the opponent. She knows what shots she needs to take.”
Lynnwood’s Monica Kwong also credits a sibling, older brother Daniel, for introducing her to the sport.
She started playing tennis five years ago.
“I got involved because of my brother,” Kwong said. “I usually follow in my brother’s footsteps.”
Kwong knew early on that tennis was a sport she wanted to pursue seriously.
“I was really passionate about it since I hit my forehands and backhands with my brother,” Kwong said. “I asked my mom for lessons.”
Kwong already is among the league’s top players, according to Lynnwood coach Rob McMains.
“Her skills are as good as anybody in the league,” he said. “There are a couple of girls who hit harder than she does. She’s kind of used to that. That doesn’t seem to faze her.”
McMains prefers to see his No. 1 singles player being aggressive on the court. Kwong has the ability to lay back and be consistent with her hits as many high school players are capable of doing.
“She’s at her best when she’s dictating the points, trying to go for her shots and go for winners,” McMains said.
McMains expects Kwong to be among the top contenders for the postseason.
So far her youth hasn’t really been too much of a liability.
“A freshman playing No. 1 singles doesn’t happen a lot,” McMains said. “A freshman winning at No. 1 singles — that happens even less. She’s done some great things.”
Myint-Zu Kyaw’s goal coming into the season was to earn one of Edmonds-Woodway’s top three singles slots. Not only did she accomplish her goal but she’s emerged as one of the Wesco 4A South Division’s top players.
“My season is going pretty good,” Kyaw said. “Just to make varsity as a freshman is a huge accomplishment. I’ve just got to focus on the rest of the season.”
Kyaw’s parents introduced her to the sport seven years ago, thinking it might be a fun activity for her.
“Right from the beginning I was a quick learner,” Kyaw said. “I started playing in tournaments within the first two years of learning.”
Kyaw also was an avid swimmer for 10 years but decided to focus on tennis as her game steadily improved.
Though she is only a freshman, Kyaw brings years of experience to the court, so it’s not a surprise to Edmonds-Woodway coach Dan Crist that she’s had so much success on the court.
“Even though other players are older and stronger, they probably don’t have any more experience than her,” Crist said. “She’s a freshman in age but from the experience standpoint she’s played in as many tournaments or more than a lot of players out there.”
From the start of the season, Kyaw has been a solid player.
“She was strong when she came in,” Crist said. “She’s pretty steady. She hits a solid ball and can move forward. She’s got good strokes. She plays the net. She’s pretty solid all-around.”
Kyaw is good at accepting feedback, Crist said.
The Edmonds-Woodway freshman said she has plenty of room to improve her game.
“I definitely have some weaknesses,” she said. “I have to work on my shots. They need to get a bit deeper and not so high. I also can have better placement. It’s really important that I move my players around. And even when I’m having bad days I need to find ways to win.”