Coming off the biggest win of her young career, Cowichan Bay tennis player Grace Haugen is hoping to make some noise at the national championships.
Haugen, who turned 16 on St. Patrick’s Day, won the provincial indoor U16 singles and doubles titles in Vancouver on the last weekend of February, then finished fourth at the U18 singles tournament and first in doubles in Burnaby a week later.
Now she’s off to represent B.C. in the national championships; the U16s in Montreal this week and the U18s in Toronto next week. Having previously placed anywhere between 13th and 30th at nationals, she’s aiming for top-10 results this year.
“I’m a very competitive person,” Haugen said. “I like the competition and I like how you have to work harder and harder to improve. There’s always something to strive for.”
Haugen’s regular doubles partner is Stefanie Da Silva from White Rock, who she also happened to beat at the provincial U16 singles final.
“She and I have gone back and forth the last three tournaments,” Haugen noted. “We were both so nervous. It was a really emotional match.”
The match went a full three sets and three hours, until both players were almost to the point of crying.
“The closer it was to the end, the more stress I felt, the more tight I played,” Haugen recalled.
An hour after Haugen won that match 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, she and Da Silva had to turn around and play their doubles semifinal, which went two sets, with a seven-minute break before the doubles final, which they also won in two sets.
Haugen lost to Da Silva in the U18 singles semifinal, then played a grueling third-place match against Chloe Yoo of Vancouver, which lasted four hours and 10 minutes, after she had already played four matches that weekend.
“I couldn’t feel my legs,” Haugen remembered. “I wish I could have pulled through after a four-hour match instead of lost it.”
After that, she and Da Silva still had to play the doubles semifinal and final, with a 10-minute break between them. They won the semi 2-6, 6-0, 10-6, then swept the final 6-0, 6-0.
Being the only athlete on the Island at her level of tennis adds another dimension to the sport. Haugen travels to Nanaimo or Victoria to train six days a week, and most high-level tournaments are on the Mainland. Haugen got into the sport four and a half years ago when the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club held a clinic during the teachers’ strike. Prior to that, she had never held a racket. Coaches there said she had potential, so she entered a rookie tournament in Victoria where she was spotted by coach Gerald Yung, who she has trained with ever since.
Haugen’s dad Curt and mom Andy have thrown their support behind her, despite not knowing anything about the sport before she picked it up.
“We aren’t a tennis family,” Curt said. “That makes it tough, too. We’ve tried our best to keep our eyes and ears open and our mouths closed.”
Haugen had a successful outdoor season last summer as well, winning a doubles title and making a singles final, but the most recent championships marked the biggest achievements of her career. Haugen is in Quebec for U16 nationals this week and will head to Ontario for U18 nationals next week.