Ball in bounds, she is thinking outside the lines

Tennis: Joppatowne's Liezl Samios-Uy is dominating on the court and in the classroom, but isn't consumed by the sport.

High Schools

April 20, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

After watching Liezl Samios-Uy blister one forehand down the line after another, it would be easy to think that she's one of those tennis prodigies who has had a racket in her hand since getting out of a crib.

But that assumption doesn't do the Joppatowne senior justice.

"After tennis, she's got other things to fall back on," said Mariners coach Drew Pesci. "She's extremely bright and so focused. She's just got so much going for her."

Indeed, the number that Samios-Uy, an aspiring aerospace engineer, is most proud of is her 4.17 grade point average, making her the Class of 2003 valedictorian.

But 70-0 - Samios-Uy's career record on the tennis court against Harford County competition - is quite a feat in itself.

With three county championships already on her resume, the 17-year-old is a favorite to win a fourth, especially after Tuesday's 6-0, 6-1 win over C. Milton Wright freshman Jessica Ahn, who came into the match undefeated and was believed to be Samios-Uy's biggest threat.

Using powerful ground strokes, a reliable serve, an unwavering focus and court savvy beyond her years, Samios-Uy is a two-time region champion and finished third in the state last year after falling to Glenelg standout Marianne Baker, a two-time state champion who is undefeated in high school.

The two could possibly meet again, but Samios-Uy has set a smaller goal for this season.

"I'm just trying to get through this season without having any more pain in my wrist," said Samios-Uy, who is 5-0 this year.

Samios-Uy's toughest opposition recently has been her health. Since she was 12, she has been hampered by acute pain and soreness in her right wrist, which started as tendinitis and has developed into Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, caused by repetitive hand movements.

The injury, made worse because Samios-Uy is right-handed, forced the Mariners' top player to miss three of the team's first six matches this season and to take a two-week break from tennis.

"I was really confident before the season started," said Samios-Uy, who wears a black wrap on her wrist and has tried a little of everything to treat the injury, including a cortisone shot, medicine and physical therapy. "I trained all summer and all winter, then it started to hurt toward the end of training and before the season started. But I've been patient with it and right now, it feels fine."

Still, the injury has forced her to alter her normal routine. A five-time Maryland State Junior champion and a two-time state indoor winner, Samios-Uy cut down on her schedule about a year and a half ago.

The time off, filled by an academic workload that comes with three advanced-placement college courses this semester, has made her realize even more that there's more to life than tennis.

But that's an epiphany Samios-Uy had years ago, not long after she started playing tennis in an Edgewood recreation program just before she turned 9.

Shortly after her family moved back to Harford County from Japan - where the Samios-Uys moved when Liezl was 3 and lived for three years - she enrolled in clinics and played in tournaments. But unlike many she has competed against, Samios-Uy views tennis as a hobby, not as a profession.

She trains about three times a week, usually with Bob Torres, the father of C. Milton Wright county and regional champion Roger Torres. Many of her competitors are at it seven days a week.

"If I played too much, I'm going to get tired of it," said Samios-Uy. "I've seen other players and they talk about how they started playing when they're 3 or 4, and I don't know how they do it. My dad has been really supportive and he's never forced me to go out and practice. It's always been up to me."

Samios-Uy's next decision concerns whether or not she will play tennis as a freshman at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., one of the top tennis programs in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

But the teen-ager is concerned that tennis will hamper her responsibilities as an engineering major, and most likely she will sit out next year before joining the team.

"I want to have that balance," said Samios-Uy. "I have school and I have friends. I don't need to base my life on tennis."

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