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The best player in the Juneau-Douglas High School tennis program's brief history literally just fell from the sky.
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In mid-August, 16-year-old Hong Kong exchange student Ling Chan stepped off a plane to attend JDHS. Little did the Crimson Bears know, a powerful player just fell into their laps.
Chan burst on to the state tennis scene on Sept. 22 in Anchorage when she handed South Anchorage High School's Emma Lewis her first high school defeat.
Chan will lead a crew of eight Crimson Bears back to Anchorage this weekend for the inaugural Alaska School Activities Association State Tennis Championships.
"It was a surprise," JDHS coach Amy Skilbred said of Chan's arrival. "The family she's staying with told me that she arrived with two tennis racquets, so I said, 'Oh, I'm assuming she's pretty good then.' ... Other than that I had no idea. It's been great having her because she can play with the other players and raise their game."
The Crimson Bears' participants at the state championships:
Girls' singles: Ling Chan
Boys' singles: Brian Vandor
Girls' doubles: Dream Suchitbharabitya and
Boys' doubles: Peter Jorgensen and Steffan Wilcox
Mixed doubles: Lyndsey Kelly and Nathan Graves
In Hong Kong, Chan is one of the city's most accomplished junior players. She captured the prestigious South Chinese Athletic Association Chairman's Cup Ladies' Singles title in 2005 as that tourney's top seed.
In 2004, Chan was the 15th ranked ladies' singles player - junior or open - in Hong Kong and won the 14-and-under Hong Kong National Junior Tennis Championship.
She ended her formal training three years ago before coming to Alaska in the summer.
"I didn't know about Alaska," she said.
Though she's new to the state, she's quickly learning about this unique place.
For instance, the shopping isn't too shabby in Anchorage.
"The shopping is good," she said. "My friend told me to buy clothes there."
"She's our fashionista," Skilbred added.
While Chan is still learning English, her game on the court needs no translation. The 16-year-old boasts incredible power with her forehand and backhand. Each stroke is punctuated by the emphatic pop of ball meeting racquet.
A highly anticipated rematch with Lewis is very likely at the state tournament. Chan enters the tourney as the top seed while Lewis is ranked second.
"She's very tough," Chan said of Lewis.
While Chan will be garnering plenty of attention, the entire JDHS team boasts a terrific chance to bring home some hardware from Anchorage.
The mixed doubles tandem of senior Lyndsey Kelly and sophomore Nathan Graves will enter the tournament as the top seed. Also, the girls doubles team of Dream Suchitbharabitya and Merijke Coenraad earned a four-seed.
Kelly and Graves proved their mettle after defeating last year's Alaska High School Invitational champs Aurora Landau and Graham DeKeyser in two sets.
"We're both pretty fast on the court, so if we see someone switching we know where to be on the court," Kelly said. "We run to cover the opposite sides. We kind of have a feeling for that."
Graves said, "Communication is very big for us. That helps us."
Since starting the program in 2002, the JDHS tennis program has experienced considerable growth.
Now, in just five seasons, the Crimson Bears are competing for a state championship.
"We've made continuous progress every year, getting better and better and beating more and more teams," Graves said. "For this year to cap it off and be the best team would be really great."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.