Circumstance and simple geography always did link Lexi Blackmon and Leena Hwang.
The two girls were in the same kindergarten class. They grew up in the same neighborhood, a street apart.
Through tennis, though, a connection was forged they never anticipated in their wildest imagination.
Doubles partners for four years at Oswego East, Blackmon and Hwang earlier this fall won their 100th match together. They’ve never lost a conference match, and are aiming for their third state meet berth in the coming week.
“Never would have guessed it if you told me,” Blackmon said.
Roster construction first brought Blackmon and Hwang together as freshmen.
Oswego East already had a state-qualifying No. 1 doubles team and two strong singles players.
Neither girl had played doubles before. Neither knew how to volley, although Hwang’s dad Abraham played doubles in high school and helped train them.
Yet they won a Southwest Prairie championship at No. 2 doubles as freshmen, then at No. 1 the last two years.
“Just the way it was laid out they were thrown together,” Wolves coach Pete Conrad said. “I wasn’t going to mess with the formula.”
It’s an interesting mix.
Both are stellar students — Hwang No. 1 in her academic class.
Blackmon is the one who plays tennis year-round, although she only plays singles when not paired with Hwang.
Hwang, on the other hand, is the most unusual three-sport athlete.
She played multiple sports in junior high, but only tennis stuck. She tried out for badminton when she got to high school and made top 16 in the state as a junior.
“In tennis you don’t really use your wrists, but in badminton that’s all it is. A lot of girls won’t do both because it screws up your swing,” Hwang said, “but I love both. Even though it’s hard to transition I enjoy doing both equally.”
On top of that, Hwang in the fall also doubles in golf. Her brother Austin, two years her senior, golfed and Leena joined the Oswego East boys golf team as the high school does not field a girls team. She made sectionals as a junior and again this week.
Hwang this week golfed at regionals in the morning, then returned for an afternoon tennis meet with Kaneland.
Her usual routine is tennis until 5, then leave for the golf range to hit balls until 7.
Hwang could have to choose between state golf and tennis sectionals; she almost certainly would opt to play tennis.
“It gets pretty stressful, but it’s worth it,” said Hwang, who hopes to attend Brigham Young to study business.
In the more strategic doubles game, Blackmon and Hwang come off as the ideal complement.
Blackmon brings stronger groundstrokes from the baseline, but Hwang goes to the net better. Blackmon’s first serve is better, but Hwang’s second serve – “literally, like a little girl’s serve” – has a ton of backspin that catches opponents off guard,
Both possess the requisite instincts you just can’t teach, and killer competitiveness.
Never more was that evident than in sectionals last year, when the girls rallied from down a set and 5-1 in the second to beat Kaneland in three.
“We have that killer instinct,” Blackmon said. “A lot of other girls, tennis is like a hobby. With us it’s something we love and we share it on the court.”