Gateway: Sports

Out of her shell, Gig Harbor’s Park an inspiration for others

Gig Harbor sophomore Joyce Park is looking to make a splash at this year’s state tournament. She took fourth at last year’s Class 4A singles tournament as a freshman.
Gig Harbor sophomore Joyce Park is looking to make a splash at this year’s state tournament. She took fourth at last year’s Class 4A singles tournament as a freshman. jbessex@gateline.com

When Gig Harbor High School sophomore tennis player Joyce Park lost a match against Olympia during the regular season, she went to her coaches, Pollyann Butler and Tracie Frame, and apologized, feeling like she had let the team down.

Park, who took fourth in the Class 4A state singles tournament last season as a freshman, doesn’t like to lose.

“I think she carries the pressure of having to win all of her league matches,” Frame said. “We tell her how much we love her. We tell her to relax a little bit. She doesn’t have to carry the whole team. She doesn’t ever want to disappoint.”

Park is working on taking losses more lightly. Luckily for her, it doesn’t happen very often. The sophomore phenom only lost two league matches during the entire season.

“I just try to have fun,” Park said. “That’s something I have a hard time with. I get into it, and it’s hard to stay positive. I think the best thing is to just relax and look on the bright side of things, which is something I still need to improve on.”

Butler, who has coached at Gig Harbor High for six years, said Park is the best player she’s coached.

“She just has a really fun attitude,” Butler said. “She listens, she’s coachable, she works really hard. She’s very talented.”

But Butler won’t take credit for coaching-up Park, as she was already one of the best players in the state when she arrived on campus as a freshman. Credit goes to Joyce’s father, John, who is Joyce’s full-time coach.

“He is so nice,” Butler said. “He’s not the typical overbearing parent. He totally defers to me in all things. He doesn’t treat her like a prima donna.”

Park has been playing tennis with her dad all her life. He never took it easy on her when she was younger, and now that she’s grown up a bit, she returns the favor.

“I always beat him,” Park said, cracking a smile.

Park started beating him when she was 13 or 14.

“When I was younger, I thought it was impossible,” she said. “Now that I’ve improved, I see how easy it is to beat him.”

Park has come out of her shell in her sophomore campaign, cheering her teammates on and becoming more invested in the team’s success. The team voted her “most inspirational.”

“She’s just very modest,” Frame said. “She’s right in there with everybody. She doesn’t think she’s different. She brings the level (of the team) up.”

Park earned another trip to the Class 4A state singles meet over the weekend with a strong showing at the West Central District III tournament, taking second place. She’s hoping to peak at state and take home the tournament’s top prize.

“I want to get first and just do my best,” Park said. “I want the best and first is the best, so I want it.”

As a team, Gig Harbor ended the regular season in a three-way tie for first place with Bellarmine and Olympia. But Gig Harbor sent the most players to the district tournament. No. 2 singles player Tova Beck and doubles teams Lainey Butler and Paige Lawson, and Jessica Wilson and Dani Connor all qualified for districts.

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