In Joyce Park’s match against Peninsula High School star No. 1 singles player Allie Barry on April 22 at Gig Harbor High School, Park looked like a season veteran, cruising to a 6-3, 6-1 win against her junior opponent, who has been to the Class 3A state tournament the past two seasons.
Here’s the kicker: Park is a 14-year-old freshman.
While it’s not unheard of for freshmen to play on varsity teams, it’s surprising when they’re already the best player on the team. Park beat out all the other singles players in practice during the challenge matches, earning the No. 1 singles spot.
"It’s really exciting," Park said. "I feel so honored. It’s against all these older people. And I’m also on varsity, which is pretty cool. To be No. 1, that’s amazing, I think."
Park won the match against Barry and it was the first time she had even lost a game this year. If not for her parents signing her up for a class at Sprinker Tennis Center in Spanaway, Park might not have discovered her natural ability.
"I really didn’t want to play any sports," Park said. "But my parents signed up for a tennis lesson — that’s how it all started. It was fun and I just enjoyed it."
That little push was exactly what she needed.
"I think I was just a lazy kid," Park said. "I was afraid of meeting new people. I like the comfort of my home. I think it was good to play tennis, make new connections and meet new people."
Park said her goal was not to lose a single game this season. Now that she has, she shifted her sights to perhaps a more reasonable goal.
"I think I’ll try to focus on not losing my service games," Park said. "Those are really important to me."
Park recently lost her personal tennis coach (outside of school) because he moved to California. Luckily, Park has a pretty good practice partner — her father.
"We play every day," Park said. "Strategy-wise, my dad helps me a lot. I have my technique down but he helps me with strategy."
Already one of the best players in the state as a freshman, Park has remained humble, keeping things in perspective.
"Right now, a lot of these players play for fun," Park said. "Tennis is not their main sport, but it is for me. When I go to tournaments, the players are just as good as me. I think it’s kind of fun just to see myself improve and just working on that motivates me. I have to thank my parents a lot for that."
Park will be a fixture for the Tides for several years, and should rack up plenty of awards and honors along the way. She enjoys the personal accountability the sport demands.
"It’s just nice being out there by yourself," she said. "You decide your own actions."