Paige Duncan laughs when she recalls the revolving door that was her early sports career.
Golf, basketball, gymnastics, soccer — she gave them all a shot.
“We tried a ton of sports, and I didn’t like any of them,” Paige said. “So my dad introduced me to tennis.”
About six years after picking up a racket for the first time, the 14-year-old Paige, who finished at Southside Junior High in the spring, will enter Denham Springs Freshman High this fall as one of the top junior tennis players in the state and region.
Her talents were on display again last weekend as she finished third in the U.S. Tennis Association Girls 14 Southern Championships regional tournament in Macon, Georgia, losing to Jackeline Lopez, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, in the semifinals but rebounding to beat Katie Weber, 6-1, 6-3, in the third-place match.
Paige and Jackeline placed fourth in doubles.
Her performance at regionals helped earn Paige an invitation to the USTA Girls 14 National Championships in Peachtree City, Georgia, but she will not play because the tournament in early August coincides with her first week of school.
However, Paige is scheduled to play in the USTA National Clay Court Championships in Plantation, Florida, next month.
She won the Girls 14 singles and doubles championships at the Louisiana State Closed Junior Qualifying Tournament in Lafayette earlier this month.
As of last week, Paige was ranked as the top girls 14-year-old player in the state and the No. 9 player in the Southern region, comprised of mostly SEC states.
“We always told her she could be as good as she wants to be,” said Kyle Duncan, Paige’s dad.
Paige hopes to play college tennis one day, then perhaps give the pro game a try.
She clearly is committed to that goal.
Paige’s schedule finds her at the Forest Park tennis courts for three or so hours every weekday afternoon. She usually spends about half of that time hitting balls with coach Eric Street and the other half with a women’s college player or an adult male.
None of the men make the mistake of taking their young, pony-tailed opponent lightly.
“She’s pretty well-known by now,” said Kali Duncan, Paige’s mom. “They know they’re going to have their hands full.”
The Duncans are usually on the road about two weekends out of the month, the kind of routine that can sometimes keep Paige from attending a friend’s birthday party or joining her friends for trips to the mall or the movie theater.
“I think I stay busier than they do,” she said with a smile.
Still, her parents have made a point to help her maintain balance in her life.
“Most of the kids in the national tournaments are home-schooled or attend some type of tennis academy,” Kyle Duncan said. “Unless she asks for it, we’re not going to home-school her.”
Wherever the sport takes her, Paige can look back to her failed experiments with other sports as the place it all began.
Some sports, like golf, she didn’t like. “My dad liked golf,” she recalled. “I hated it.” Other sports, like gymnastics, didn’t seem to like her. “My legs were too long,” she said.
The youngster found the sport for her when her dad, who had started playing tennis himself in an adult league, began feeding Paige balls at North Park when she was 8.
That led to one-hour weekly lessons at the YMCA, which eventually led to the all-out pursuit the Duncans know today.
Kyle Duncan said some of the steps his daughter took in the early stages of her development — trying to construct points rather than simply keep the point alive — still give her a leg up on the other girls her age.
“She has been working on things since 8 or 9 years old that people are realizing they now they should have been doing a long time ago,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story was changed on June 23 to correct the name of the tennis coach.