SALIX, Iowa | Anna Alons can play eight musical instruments.
For almost any 16-year-old, that would be their most impressive accomplishment.
For the Westwood High School senior-to-be, that may have to settle into a comfortable second place. That’s because what Alons has been able to accomplish on the tennis court rivals anything Siouxland has ever seen.
Alons has made a name for herself playing on the United States Tennis Association junior circuit, amassing more than 400 victories in singles and doubles play since 2008. She has racked up titles and played against some of the nation’s best.
Her talent was evident from the very beginning to her coach, Nabil Sorathia.
“She was just head and shoulders above everybody else,” said Sorathia of the first time he saw Alons play at the age of 6. “From the first lesson sometimes we have to hold the racket just to get them to bump (the ball) over, and she was already making shots on her own. She was able to hit almost all the way back to the baseline.”
Alons does not necessarily cut an imposing figure on the tennis court until you start to watch her hit a forehand and backhand. There is a power in her stoke that makes it obvious why she has enjoyed success at nearly every level.
“I played a spring team national a couple years back and my team actually won, so I have a gold ball,” she said. “At all the top nationals you get a gold ball (for winning) so it is nice knowing I have one of those.”
Alons has also won the doubles title at the sectional championship four times and is a consistent placer in the singles competition. And, the Missouri Valley sectional pools talent from five states (Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma) as well as parts of Illinois.
Still, the work is never done for an athlete that is either on the practice courts in Sioux City with Sorathia or taking a lesson in Omaha nearly every day of the week.
Sorathia, a year-round instructor at Four Seasons, was twice a state placer at North High before a record-setting college career at Morningside. He has been most impressed with the development of one very important aspect of Alons’ game.
“Her serve has developed into an extremely big weapon,” said Sorathia, who noted that serve easily tops 100 mph. “It used to be one of the things I was worried about with her because she was so small. That is the one thing that I thought might hold her back, but her serve developed into what I would consider her biggest strength now.”
Where does all the power come from for the 5-foot-6 dynamo?
“I think it is just about putting all of the parts together,” she said. “Your swing, a lot of people think is just with your arm, but you have to be able to use your legs, you have to get the rotation through your core and use your wrist. I guess it is just putting it all together, the timing.”
It is likely that most in the area and across the state don’t know about Alons because she made the decision early to play in USTA events and forego high school tennis, a sport not offered at Westwood.
“I have tried a couple of times to play high school, but I got voted down every single time,” she said. “It would have been nice to play for the team aspect… but it is not the end of the world. I can still play USTA.”
Even at a young age, she would be able to beat local college players, something she now looks back on in a different light.
“It was always fun and a challenge, but now that I am getting older and into older age groups of junior tennis, I realize how annoying it must have been for those people,” she said.
She has had her ups and downs that hit a low point a couple of years ago when an illness left her sick for five months. That caused her to lose 15 pounds as she searched for answers. It ended with her having her gallbladder removed.
For her part, Alons said rather than refining a certain skill she is focusing on a the bigger picture when it comes to her game.
“I am trying to tone it down a little, being the smarter player and not just always going for the big shot,” she said. “I want to play smarter, more mature.”
Alons came to the sport almost by accident, but not before trying out a variety of others.
“I did a lot of other sports for some reason,” she said. “I started out with gymnastics, a little bit of ice skating, tried soccer and then my mom just kind of signed me up for parks and rec group (tennis). I was doing swimming at the time and I really liked both of them, but right when I first started I just really liked playing tennis so I just kept going with it.”
Like a baseball player hitting the sweet spot on the bat, Alons said the feeling of getting that perfect hit off her racket got her hooked at an early age.
Alons’ father, Kevin, who is in the Air National Guard, played tennis in high school and she describes her mother, Ngu, as “pretty athletic.” However, what has allowed her to progress to the point of being one of the best players in a multi-state region has her more stumped than any return she has to make on the court.
Alons, who said she enjoys playing doubles, now competes in the 18-year-old division even though she is still two years from that milestone. It doesn’t faze someone who is obviously passionate about the sport and yet not completely consumed by it.
Her next big decision is where she will play in college and the list of schools looking at her is long. The University of Nebraska, Air Force, Marquette and Minnesota are all schools she has visited or received interest from.
Alons, with the help of her family, made the decision early that she would not attend a well-known academy some place like Florida for her tennis. She opted, instead, for enjoying a more well-rounded experience closer to home.
With the success come expectations.
“I still enjoy tennis, but I would say the biggest thing that gets to you is the pressure,” she said. “That is probably the hardest part.… You just have to have confidence in your game.”
Enter those eight instruments.
“I really like music, so next year I will be in my school’s show choir but I will also be involved in choir and band,” said Alons, who plays trumpet, piano, clarinet, bass clarinet, two different kinds of saxophones, guitar and the ukulele. “It helps with tennis, so if it gets to be too much you can go to music and cool off a little bit.”