Jackie Kawamoto may have surprised some in the high school tennis world with her state singles title as a junior last June.
The Greenwood Community High School senior won’t be sneaking up on her competition this year.
“She may have been a little under the radar of the top eight girls or so in the state,” said coach Steve Gantz, who saw Kawamoto take a tough two-set match over Carmel junior Bailey Padgett, 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 in the 2013 IHSAA state title match. “Not anymore.”
No, Kawamoto, who finished with a perfect 28-0 record in becoming the first Johnson County girls player to win a state singles tennis title, will not escape attention as the reigning champ.
“I think she raised awareness statewide,” Gantz said of Kawamoto, who will lead the Woodmen back on the court in early April. “Everybody is well aware of Jackie.”
What opponents will find is the same tough competitor, now boosted with the confidence that success at the highest level brings.
“I’m the same player,” said Jackie, who, with twin sister Jade, gives the Woodmen a dominant one-two punch at the top of the lineup. “I feel a little more pressure. People expect a lot more out of me.”
Gantz expects Jackie to handle it with the same quiet calculation that she uses to size up and dismiss opponents.
“Her personality and drive is not one to sit back on her laurels,” said Gantz, who is entering his 20th season as Greenwood’s coach.
“That doesn’t mean she might not lose a couple of matches along the way,” Gantz added. “Her competitiveness, mental tenacity and conditioning level are just phenomenal.”
It will take all of that to handle the crown as queen of the courts, always the target for an opponent’s best game.
Of the six underclassmen who won the title in the last decade, none repeated.
“Jackie is a wonderful player, very competitive. She competed so well to win the state title,” Gantz said. “She has a lot of respect for her opponents and there are still a lot of good players out there. I expect nothing less than her usual 100 percent.”
Jackie, 17, will get a boost from the return of sister Jade, who — at No. 2 singles — was less than 100 percent healthy last season after a knee injury.
“One thing that has helped her is Jade, who is undefeated in high school,” Gantz said. “They push each other. They are not going to let the other one slack.
“It has been great to have that in practice, but it carries over in matches, too.”
Indeed, it was when Jade arrived from her own match that Jackie captured momentum in her state championship match, turning around an 0-2 tiebreaker deficit.
“It will be nice to have her back,” said Jackie, who will join her sister next year on the University of Dayton women’s team. “Having her next to me on the court really helps.”
This year, though, there is the matter of defending her state title, which starts with staying within herself and working on the little things, Jackie said.
“We celebrated, but my family kept me humble. They made sure that I still work on my game,” she said. That means focusing on footwork and being aggressive at the net.
In addition, she is working on her serve, something Gantz said is not overly strong, but is used with precision.
“She just makes very minimal mistakes,” Gantz said. “She knows how to neutralize an opponent. If she is playing big hitters, she knows how to approach the ball.
“She sizes up opponents and makes adjustments.”
An offseason of tennis practice and amateur meets has given way to another high school season, one where Kawamoto will no longer be flying under the radar at the highest levels.
It is a challenge that the defending champ relishes.
“I’m ready to get started with the season and see what more I can get done,” she said.