Sisters make Kadena tough to beat
Stars and Stripes October 24, 2012
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa - Call them the twins who aren’t.
Alex and Kristin Howard, the No. 2 and 3 singles seeds on Kadena’s tennis team, look so much alike, they’re constantly referred to by opposing teams’ players as “the twins.” Or “the Barbies,” because of their resemblance to the iconic children’s toy introduced by Mattel in 1961.
“We get it a lot, so we’re used to it,” Kristin, a junior, said of the repeated “twins” references.
“In the beginning” when they went to Kadena for the first time together last September, they heard the word “twins” quite a bit, “but not any more. Everyone at school knows us.”
Though a year apart — Alex is a sophomore — the two are nearly equals on the tennis court. They play well. They play year-round, against adults and Japanese on base and off.
And they win.
Kristin has won 15 singles and Alex 14, and the two have won 15 doubles matches, keeping the Panthers unbeaten against all their opponents thus far this season, including Yokota, American School In Japan and Christian Academy Japan during a trip to Tokyo earlier this month.
“They’re capable,” Panthers coach Robert Bliss said of the sisters, who are bookended by Kadena’s No. 1, senior Erika Youngdahl, a three-time Far East singles semifinalist, and No. 4, senior Christina Thompson, a transfer from Daegu. “A lot of these kids have a lot of experience.”
“They’re pretty deep, knowing their top three as well as I do, and Christina is a talent to be reckoned with,” said Tommy Palmer, who used to coach Youngdahl on a Yokota girls team that lost to Kadena 3-2 on Oct. 5.
“That was fun, going up against Yokota and ASIJ,” Bliss said. “That really gave us a look” at some of their rivals at next month’s Far East tournament.
Tennis came to the Howards early in life. Their father, Chris, now a retired Air Force senior master sergeant working on Camp Foster and his wife, Rachel, who’s from England, each played the game when they were young.
“It’s a sport I played, so they grew up with it,” Rachel Howard said.
The parents enrolled the sisters in tennis lessons at the Risner complex on Kadena. There, they were taught by longtime instructor Tokio Nakamatsu.
He built the game of 2007 Far East singles champion Kennedy Allen, who with her tennis-playing sister Carson lived on Okinawa most of her life near the Howards, then in Florida before transferring to Seoul American in 2007.
In no way do the sisters feel as if they were pressed into a game they didn’t want to play. Kristin also plays soccer, but since the start of this year declares tennis her “first love.”
“I just like playing a sport. It takes the stress off,” Kristin said.
“It’s fun, a good way to relax. Competition is fun,” Alex said.
While the two are much alike in terms of athletics, home life can be interesting — and challenging — since the two are quite different off the court, save for their looks.
Alex likes math; Kristin prefers language arts and journalism. Alex doesn’t much like science; Kristin doesn’t share her sister’s love for math.
And then, there are the times when each wants to borrow the other’s clothes, mostly shirts, blouses and jackets.
“Not a pleasant situation,” Rachel said.
Despite those differences, they say they each genuinely like and support each other.
“We have a lot of the same friends, the same sense of humor, the same sarcasm, the same jokes,” Kristin said.
Out at the court, whenever one is playing and the other isn’t, the other provides the one full support along with the parents.
“We’re like best friends. We cheer for each other, always,” Alex said.
It’s likely the Howards might face Carson and her doubles partner, Ashley Cho, in girls doubles at the Far East tournament starting Nov. 5 at Risner, with Nakamatsu likely in attendance to watch his three ex-pupils.
“They’re both phenomenal tennis players,” Palmer said. “They’re going to be a powerful force at Far East.”