With tennis done for the season, so is double duty for Timothy Christian's Ahn

Updated 10/25/2017 5:33 PM
  • Timothy Christian's Abygale Ahn returns a backhand with teammate Cassandra Lee in the Class 1A semifinal Doubles match Saturday at the IHSA Girls Tennis State Finals at Buffalo Grove High School.

      Timothy Christian's Abygale Ahn returns a backhand with teammate Cassandra Lee in the Class 1A semifinal Doubles match Saturday at the IHSA Girls Tennis State Finals at Buffalo Grove High School. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Chloe Ryan

    Chloe Ryan

There are only 24 hours in a day. Timothy Christian junior Abygale Ahn uses them all.

On Saturday in Buffalo Grove, Ahn and Trojans freshman Cassandra Lee took third place in doubles at the Class 1A tennis finals, earning the Elmhurst school's first state medal in girls tennis.

That meant Ahn could concentrate fully on her other fall sport, volleyball. She's done each concurrently throughout high school.

"I haven't met someone who does that," said Ahn, a candidate for the best pickleball team you've ever seen once she enters middle age.

"I never wished that I stopped doing it," she said, "but there were times when I got a little overwhelmed. There were times when I felt like I didn't have enough time to get everything done, but it all worked out. I think I'm really lucky to have this opportunity, it's so rare."

Ahn practiced both sports daily, acting as a captain for coach Keith Mills' tennis team then shape-shifting into Scott Piersma's starting libero in volleyball. No. 4 seed at its own Class 3A sectional, Timothy Christian (24-12) meets No. 5 Fenwick at 6 p.m. Thursday for the Fenwick regional title.

Ahn said her coaches were "super-understanding" on those days when she had back-to-back practices or games.

"Leading up to tennis state (tournament), I had to make sure I got both in, some way," said Ahn, top eight in singles at the 2016 Class 1A tennis finals.

"Sometimes I would come back from a tennis match or (practice) and be a little late for volleyball practice. It wasn't too bad, usually I'd just miss warmups."

Ahn started with tennis lessons around age 5 and added volleyball as a seventh-grader at Timothy Christian Middle School. Her freshman volleyball season she was a late-season varsity call-up, playing in the Class 2A semifinal for a team that finished third with a program-best record of 37-5. As a sophomore along with her all-state tennis season Ahn helped the Trojans go 31-6 in volleyball.

It's been hectic, particularly now in what's considered a high school student's most strenuous year. She's had to postpone visits to her college choices -- Pepperdine, Stanford, Northwestern, Wheaton College and an Ivy League school or two.

Ahn said she takes all honors or advanced-placement courses, which is why she's No. 1 in her junior class with a 4.25 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. Her résumé includes four mission trips to Honduras and another to Costa Rica.

Like all of us, she's found multi-tasking can be difficult but worthwhile.

"I think being able to balance it all was a little more difficult than it has been in the past due to the fact that there's only so many hours in the day," she said. "Sometimes I felt, like, how am I going to get everything done? But when I really buckled down and focused on enjoying it and not stressing myself out it was an amazing experience."

Winning weekend

Waubonsie Valley graduate Ryan McDonough won a gold medal in singles, a silver medal in doubles and a sportsmanship award last weekend at the Special Olympics North America National Tennis Championship in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Competing at the highest level of Special Olympics tennis, the 5+ classification, McDonough's doubles partner was Brent Eriks of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In the Indian Prairie School District 204 STEPS program while also taking classes at College of DuPage and working, McDonough hopes to land a return bid to The Xperience Tennis Invitational in Virginia in January. The tournament is open only to the top Special Olympics players in the country. Last year McDonough was among 32 invited.

Girl just wants to have fun

It's refreshing to hear a national-caliber athlete's motivation is not college cash or Olympic dreams.

Unlike her results, ice skater Chloe Ryan's goals are modest: "To just keep improving and have fun," she said.

"I think skaters often lose that aspect of having fun, they focus too much on, 'I've gotta do this, I've gotta do that,'" the St. Francis sophomore said en route to Geneva's Fox Valley Ice Arena.

Coached by former British Ice Dancing champion Jamie Whyte, Ryan practices before and after school, about three hours a day, 18 to 25 hours a week, nearly every week of the year.

"I'm finished for this season," she said, "but in skating the season never really ends, so I'm headed back to the rink to get ready for next season."

Another season, another go at a top national finish. In Colorado Springs in September, Ryan earned 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Association National Solo Ice Dance championships in two categories, Pre-Gold Pattern Dances and Junior Combined Dances. In 2016 she took silver in Silver Patterns and bronze in Novice Combined. She also double medaled in 2015.

Ryan started skating right before she turned 6 to kick the monotony of Christmas break. Her discipline was freestyle, but over time all the jumping involved caused a vicious cycle of injury, recovery and relearning the jumps. About three years ago she switched to ice dancing.

"You express yourself much more on the ice," Ryan said. "When I'm doing a program I like to create a character so it helps me better relate to the program."

In September at the Broadmoor World Arena, one of her programs was set to a tune from the movie, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." Hearing it, Ryan imagined a bullfight, which triggered method acting of her own.

"I was the cape and the matador," she said.

And she's still a young girl. In Ryan's brief spare time she reads, catches up on school work, hangs out with friends and her dog, Coco, a Maltese-poodle mix. Ryan said she's got a 4.0 grade-point average.

She figures she'll compete for two or three more seasons before skating for kicks when she can during college, where she plans on studying to be a surgeon. Her attitude precludes burnout despite all those early mornings and late afternoons.

"There are times when you get tired of it, especially toward the end of the season," Ryan said. "At those times you've got to remind yourself why you're doing it, and it's all going to pay off in the end."


Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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