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Mighty mites hold court
Shes Ray Cockreham, and even though she is only 8 years old, you better start asking for her autograph, because she may just be a professional tennis star some day.
At 3-foot-10, she manages to wield a full-sized adult racquet with deadly accuracy.
Cockreham, who picked up her first racquet at the tender age of 3, takes tennis lessons at the Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club (BTAC) with kids sometimes twice her age.
She is the best junior I have ever taught, said Eric Jacobsen, tennis director at the BTAC.
Thats saying something.
Jacobsen has taught South Kitsaps Stephanie Davison, this years girls Class 4A state tennis championship runner-up and Bremertons Joel Trudel, this years West Central District Class 4A boys champion.
He even taught Jamil Al-Agba, who is playing professional tournaments right now around the world, and Jamils brother Laith, a two time Class 4A State champion from Olympic High School who went on to play at Purdue University.
She learns faster than anyone I have ever taught, he said. She hits the ball really hard. She doesnt make any mistakes.
Cockreham lives with her family in Port Orchard. Her mother Jan is an avid player herself.
She was the one who first introduced her daughter to the game.
She didnt get serious until she was 5 or 6, she said.
Cockreham is part of a contingent of young female juniors making strides at the BTAC. The pint-size girls play every day with Jacobsen, and play tournaments around the Pacific Northwest as well.
Although Cockreham hasnt begun playing tournaments, both Amy Rozier and Corinne Wurden have garnered rankings in the 12-or-under level of the United States Tennis Associations Pacific Northwest Division. Rozier is ranked 26, and Wurden is right behind her at 27.
I really like playing singles, said Wurden. I mostly like playing at the baseline.
Wurden has more tennis influences than she can count on her hands. Her mom, dad, sister, grandmother and aunt play. Her grandmother even has a tennis court in her backyard. Wurden is from Poulsbo and makes the 15-minute trip to the tennis club four days a week.
She will be in the sixth grade when school starts again at Brownsville Elementary.
I like taking lessons because I get to see all my friends, she said. I get along with a lot of people. Amys the one I most communicate with.
Wurden and Rozier are regularly giggling with each other on the court. Sometimes it is hard to pull them apart. Rozier lives in Silverdale with her family and attends Emerald Heights Elementary.
Just like her doubles partner and friend Wurden, she spends most of her time at the baseline, just smashing the ball. Both girls started playing a couple of years ago.
Jacobsen says they may both be ranked in the Top 10 in the Pacific Northwest region of the 12s division next year.
They play with the high school kids, Jacobsen said during practice last week. They are going to be really good.
Additionally, Katherine Sugimoto, a 13-year-old at Central Kitsap Junior High, and Jordan Sprague, an 11-year-old at Vinland Elementary in Poulsbo, have joined the contingent of capable girl juniors at BTAC.
Sugimoto started playing a couple years ago, and Sprague just picked up a racket six months ago. Out of all of the juniors at the club, many of them have dreams of playing professional tennis like Andre Agassi or Serena Williams.
Jacobsen said two things are important if they ever want to make it that far.
The kid has to want it, and the parents or coaches have to want it, he said. At that age, they have a choice between cartoons or television and tennis.
If the parents nudge them a little when they are so young, the sky and center court at Wimbeldon are the limit.