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Talk about a classic case of the rich getting richer.

Two-time defending Far East Tennis Tournament team champion Seoul American already counted among its returnees a bevy of players with Far East experience — nine in all, five senior boys and four junior girls.

So, when Kennedy Allen, a sophomore who three weeks ago transferred to Yongsan Garrison from Florida where she was a state semifinalist in doubles, Falcons coach Emilia Flores could barely contain her joy.

“She’s the best player I have right now. She can be better even than my boys players. She’s at that level,” Flores said.

Allen wasted no time making her presence felt.

Seoul American’s newly-anointed No. 1 singles’ seed shut out her first two opponents, Vanessa Fernandez-Torres of Taegu American and Christina Cho of Taejon Christian International.

“Her serving is wonderful, her volley is great,” Flores said. “She has the skills.”

Others agree.

“She has power, mobility, she’s mentally tough and has an aggressive net game,” said Taegu coach Ed Thompson. “She can hold her own against many of the top boys” in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference.

Tennis is very much a part of the Allen family makeup. Her father, Jason, an Air Force major assigned to Yongsan, and her mother, Tanya, played as children and young adults, and have imparted the game to their three daughters — Kennedy, 14, Carson, 12, and Emerson, 9.

“They decided they wanted us all to play tennis. It definitely runs in the family,” said Kennedy, who first picked up a racket as an 8-year-old when her father was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

“I had some really good coaches teach me the fundamentals,” Kennedy said of her practice sessions on Kadena’s Risner Tennis Complex courts. “That’s where I started everything.”

After her father transferred to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Allen suited up for Fort Walton Beach High, took lessons and played at tennis centers in Fort Walton and Destin under the guidance of coaches Chris Petty and Ray Totten.

“I learned how to play an all-court game, go to the net more often, when to go to the net, how to go to the net, how to move around the court better,” Kennedy said.

Along the way, she played in some 100 tournaments, winning about a fifth of them.

In her freshman year at FWB High, she teamed with Cecily Kersey to go 18-2 in doubles, winning the Florida 1-5A District doubles title and advancing to the state semifinals at Altamonte Springs. Allen also went 12-4 as the Vikings’ top singles seed.

“We do miss her. We’d love to have her back,” said Totten by telephone from FWB High. “She’s a very confident player, very sure of herself. She was driven.”

But along came her father’s orders to South Korea, and a change of uniform from Vikings’ red and white to Falcons’ Navy blue and white.

“I was excited to learn I was going to Korea,” Kennedy said. “I was excited to be back in Asia. I loved Okinawa. I like it here. I miss my friends and coaches in Florida, but I see a lot of promise here.”

Acceptance came readily from Falcons players and coaches, Flores said.

“She’s not only good as a player, but as a person,” she said. “She got involved with the team immediately. That was very positive. All the players look up to her. She knows she’s good, but it doesn’t go to her head. And she helps raise the standards of the rest of the team.”

“We did not expect a girl like this to come in,” said senior doubles player Song Ho Downes, a veteran of the Falcons’ Far East title teams. “It pushes the girls to try harder. “It helps the girls work harder and practice, which can only make them better. And it’s a huge confidence boost for us.”

Kennedy spends time picking the brains of coaches and teammates to find out about her opponents, although she says she tries not to worry about facing players for the first time.

“If I don’t know them, it’s just another face. I go out there and play and not worry so much about them,” she said.

She’s been told, she says, about potential Far-East foes such as two-time defending singles champion Kristia Suriben of E.J. King and 2006 runner-up Elissa Mason of Kadena.

“I think about them, but I just work on my game,” She said.

She does profess excitement about returning to Risner, where Far East will be held Nov. 5-7.

“It’s like going back home,” Allen said.

At least one coach feels that homecoming could prove to be a happy one.

“I predict she will go unbeaten in KAIAC and Far East unless she has some weakness I haven’t seen yet,” Thompson said. “Even getting a few games off her will be a challenge.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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