Jade Lancaster was unsure whether her tennis career was over after her freshman year. Even after becoming the first tennis champion in Sumner High School’s history.
The hesitance was partially because Lancaster wanted to emphasize schoolwork and individual training, but something larger loomed.
Lancaster belongs to an elite group of athletes to become a state champion before earning a driver’s license. That success comes with as much praise as expectations.
So even though Sumner was jumping up in classification from 3A to 4A, Lancaster would be expected to win big again.
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Ultimately, Lancaster decided the pressure, and the expectations, was worth it.
“She has what it takes, but it’s gonna be her passion to want to continue to play,” said Nicole Lancaster, Jade’s mother. “We’re not pushing her to do anything. It’s gotta be her sport and her passion.”
Success has come quickly and somewhat surprising for Jade. She didn’t lose a match her freshman year and has lost only one match thus far in her sophomore season. The United States Tennis Association had Lancaster ranked fifth among high school players in the Pacific Northwest.
Now 16, she has played tennis for only five years. Her parents, Nicole and Scott, knew close to nothing about the sport until she started playing.
Before Jade’s matches, Nicole and Scott would do anything they could to help their daughter warm up, but their attempts were mostly futile. They’d try to get a rally started so Jade could practice, but their inability to play hindered her preparation.
“Sometimes I’m running around looking for someone to go on the court and warm her up, because we can’t,” Nicole Lancaster said.
“She came on, she was brand new, and all of a sudden she just established a name for herself because she just came on the scene and started winning.”
The early stages of Jade’s career began at an Auburn-Riverside camp that her sister, Brooke, played. The camp intrigued Jade and made her want to seek other opportunities to play.
She then began practicing with the USTA at the Boeing Employees Tennis Club in Kent, where she faced premier competition. Facing such quality opponents helped her become what Spenser Phelan, her coach at Sumner, calls the best tennis player he has coached in seven years at the school.
“You just don’t expect someone with her frame to hit the ball harder than anyone you’ve ever seen in person,” Phelan said. “But she hits the ball harder than any boy that’s ever played on our team, and harder than any girl who’s ever played on our team before.”
Jade continued to balance playing with USTA and Sumner, but the two outlets each brought different benefits and drawbacks.
Although USTA helped Jade gain much of her skill, the training she undergoes is incredibly competitive and, in Nicole’s words, lonely.
“It’s literally yourself versus everyone else in the system,” Jade said. “You have no one else except for yourself out there. It’s all on your own. With a team, there’s people there to support you and it’s a lot louder and more fun of an environment than USTA.”
Jade said she has benefited greatly from the camaraderie and support her high school team has given her. But after this season, she will once again consider skipping her high school season.
Perhaps a chance at family bragging rights will convince her.
Jade enters the postseason looking for her second title, which would equal that of her sister, Brooke, who won two state soccer championships at Sumner.
Her father, Scott, won a state football title at Brownwood High School in Texas. A second victory would position her atop the family totem pole with Brooke, but even if she decides not to come back for a third season, Jade will always have a place in Sumner tennis history.
Luke Garza: @LukeAGarza