No available courts for practice? No problem, they used tables as nets in the school cafeteria.
A budget of $200? No problem, they raised $8,000.
This is the reality of girls tennis at Lincoln High School.
They don’t have a tennis court they can call their own, yet they’re 15-0 this season, are the 3A Pierce County League champs, and will have five players competing in the West Central District tournament on Friday and Saturday with a shot to qualify for the state tournament.
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When the weather permits, coach Minh Nguyen holds practice at Stewart Heights Park. The park used to have four courts until someone vandalized one, tearing out one of the net poles. So this season, the team has shared three courts between 60 girls.
They had 63 try out, Nguyen said, the most ever.
When it rains they practice at Sprinker Tennis Center, if they can find court space.
But it costs extra money, and even with the fundraising, Nguyen frequently pays out of pocket so his players can get court time.
“Even with all these things — the rain, the lack of facilities, and the lack of a home tennis court — I mean, they were near perfect in achieving everything, and I think that’s the most remarkable thing,” Nguyen said on the success his team has achieved. “They’ve never wavered in getting to where they want to go. There’s never been a lack of motivation.”
The motivation or participation in tennis at Lincoln hasn’t always been so high.
Ten years ago, when Nguyen took over as head coach, he could barely get enough players to join the team — and they went 0-10. The year before, Lincoln didn’t even have a tennis team.
Despite all the challenges, Nguyen, who teaches chemistry at Lincoln, has led a change in culture.
Nguyen said the program picked up momentum when Miriam Cabrera and Lilly Le qualified for state from 2013-15. In 2015, the team won its first girls tennis district title in Lincoln’s 109-year history.
This success has inspired current players like senior Alexis Choy, who didn’t play tennis until she tried out for the team her freshman year. Choy and fellow senior Amy Hung reached the state doubles tournament last year and are the No. 1-seeded doubles team for the district tournament this weekend.
“Lilly and Miriam were basically my two role models because they qualified for state and I saw the relationship they had with Coach Nguyen,” said Choy, who plans on studying business and playing tennis at UPS in the fall. “He always wanted us to get better and he always pushed us to become a better tennis player and not only that, but to become better people.”
Choy said she developed an interest in business in part because of all the fundraising she has done for tennis.
“I learned I’m pretty good at it,” Choy said with a smile.
She’s pretty good at tennis too.
Hung credited Le and Cabrera for helping her see she could be successful in tennis.
“After I joined tennis my freshman year, I saw Lilly (Le) and Miriam (Cabrera) play and I was like, ‘Wow.’ They hit the ball really hard and really fast. And I was like, ‘Wow, how do they do that with that racket?’ It was unbelievable.”
Nguyen said another key to the turnaround at Lincoln was when he decided to started a summer hitting program at Stewart Heights Park.
Hung said it was over the summer after her freshman year that she developed her backhand and learned how to put spins on the ball.
Joining Choy and Hung at districts will be Naravie Phaisan and Melina Nguyen in doubles and Sarah Sayaseng in singles.
Minh Nguyen said it’s the most qualifiers he’s had for the district tournament in his tenure — a real accomplishment, given the program’s humble beginnings.