A conversation with three-time state tennis champion Danya Wallis

POULSBO — On her Facebook page, North Kitsap High School junior Danya Wallis posted a photo of her late father.

“It’s been six years since the day I had to say goodbye, yet not a day goes by that I don’t think about you,” she wrote on April 28. “Everything I do is for you and will continue to be until the day I see you again…”

One month later, on May 27, Wallis took home the WIAA 2A state tennis championship for the third consecutive year, defeating Tessa Tapmongkol of Sehome 6-0, 6-2.

Wallis has been playing tennis since she was 12. She devotes more than three hours a day to the sport in the form of practices, twice-a-week fitness classes, private lessons with her coach Eric Jacobson at Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center, and a nightly tennis class from 6-9 p.m.

“It’s been my biggest goal since I started tennis to get a scholarship to college,” Wallis said.

Three years ago, Wallis’s ball speed was clocked at 90 mph. Wallis admits she sometimes dreams about just lobbing the ball.

“I’d wake myself up swinging my arm,” she laughed.

Wallis — who juggles tennis with AP literature homework and has nearly all A’s in her classes — looks at tennis as her job.

With her sights on winning a fourth state championship and a scholarship to a university in either California or Arizona to study criminal psychology, Wallis said her plan is to work out and play tennis every day.

“For three years, that was the goal,” she said. “Now, all I can do is just practice. I go to [the tennis and athletic center] to train as much as possible. Hopefully, that will help me take over the match.”

Wallis’s road to the state championship began on May 26, when she defeated Zoee Rylance of Othello 6-0, 6-0, followed by a 6-1, 6-0 win over Kassidee Beuse of Sedro-Woolley the same day. Wallis then defeated Mary-Frances Ballew of Selah 6-1, 6-0 on May 27 to advance to the championship round to compete against Sehome’s Tessa Tapmongkol.

“Going into that match, I didn’t know what to expect,” Wallis said. “I’ve watched her, but I didn’t know what the outcome would be.”

Wallis quickly discovered she and Tapmongkol had similar playing styles.

“She had a very good and strong forehand as well as drop shots. That made us have a lot of volley rallies,” Wallis said.

Vikings head tennis coach Jordan Prince recalled, “At the end of their first set, Danya said her opponent played a lot like she does. Sometimes it’s hard to play a version of yourself, but unfortunately for the other girl, Danya was a better version of her.”

Fighting through nerves as Wallis played in front of more than 200 people, she said she focused on hitting to Tapmongkol’s backhand and ending on a drop shot.

Prince explained, “She usually controls with her forehand, with a lot of pace and spin. She hits so her opponent gets deeper in the court and farther behind the baseline. Then she hits as close to the net as possible. This forces the opponent to go for more than they’d like to — it forces the opponent to hit a better shot than she just hit . A drop shot is a tough spot to recover from.”

This held true for Tapmongkol, who faltered.

“I think this was her first year of high school tennis,” Wallis said. “There was a lot more people. She might have got psyched out and I played on that.”

Prince described Tapmongkol as the type of player that Wallis was as a freshman. Wallis displayed the confidence through her shots and she cruised through the rest of her draw.

“She’s gotten more dimensions to her game and improved her consistency of power,” Prince said. “She’s got that finesse in the game and her drop shot and ability to control the points. I watched her as a freshman and, compared to now, the depth of her game has gotten a lot better. And that’s the result of playing as much as she does.”

Prince expects more of the same from Wallis in next year’s tennis season.

“She’s a workhorse,” he said. “That’s what you have to do if you want to win at that level. There’s no debating why they’re the best—they put the time on the court—there’s a reason she’s as good as she is. She’s determined, she has a college on her mind.”

According to Matt Stanford, North Kitsap High School athletic director, only two other Viking athletes in school history have won four state championship titles.

“From the fall season to now, we had 260 kids compete on the state level in 16 different sports,” he said. “I may have to buy a new board.”

The Vikings girls tennis team had an equally successful season. They won the Olympic League championship, followed by their third consecutive 2A district tennis title. At district, Wallis took first in singles. Viking seniors Flynn Hibbs and Stine Nielson took third place in doubles.

“I hope to become like her someday”

Wallis’s tennis idol is superstar Serena Williams, but the three-time state champ said her main inspiration is her mom.

“We live in an amazing place and it’s all because of her,” she said. “I hope to become like her someday.”

As Wallis prepares for her final year as a high school tennis player, she’s scheduled tournaments for herself every weekend throughout the summer to stay sharp.

“I believe in myself, that I can get the fourth one,” she said. “I’ve been to that spot, through finals and at state. I know I can do it again.”

As Wallis reflected on her high school tennis career thus far, she said, “I’m sure my father would be proud.” But as she sets her sights on her fourth state championship, the lessons of her father stay close to her heart.

“He taught me, you can’t really care what other people think,” she said. “This has a lot to do with the state title. If I were to not win next year, I’m proud of the three titles I won before. I can’t worry what people might think if I lost.

“I don’t go into meets expecting to win, but I have to believe in myself in order to win.”

Of other Kitsap tennis players, Olympic’s Tye Loan won the 2A boys state singles tennis championship on May 27, defeating Shane Lynette of Sehome 6-2, 6-0. Loan’s road to the championship began May 26 when he defeated Gunnar Nelson of Black Hills 6-0, 6-0, following up with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Jared Kieser of Selah later the same day. Loan then defeated Erik Grimes of R.A. Long 6-0, 6-2 to advance to the championship round.

Other girls All-League team members, competing at state: Jasmine Palaganas of Bremerton, and Chiara Droell of Olympic.

Sophie Bonomi is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. Contact her at sbonomi@soundpublishing.com.