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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

When it comes to all things tennis, it’s love-love for Sandpoint teenager Pepper Rickert

Pepper Rickert shows off one of her USTA medals from February’s U14 championships.  (Courtesy of Pepper Rickert)
By Charlotte McKinley The Spokesman-Review

Being ranked among the top young tennis players in the country makes Sandpoint’s Pepper Rickert’s life unlike those of other teenage girls.

For one, her friend group stretches from coast to coast. For another, those friends are also her biggest rivals.

“I’ve made so many lifelong friends all over the country,” Rickert said. “I think the whole concept of playing high-level intense girls who all have the same goal is really cool.”

For Rickert, that goal is to someday play Division I tennis.

Just 14, she appears well on her way. Rickert came up big in February, winning the United States Tennis Association U14 national doubles championship in Claremont, California, while also placing second in the singles final.

The national-level win was a “milestone in her young career,” according to her coach, Dr. Steve Clark.

She followed that up with a loss in the doubles quarterfinals of the Easter Bowl National Championships at Indian Wells, California, from March 23-30. She and her partner eventually fell to the No. 1 seed in a third-set tiebreaker.

“Overall, (it was) a great tournament and experience,” Rickert’s mother Cici said.

Rickert’s unquenchable love of tennis and determination has earned her opportunities to compete in national level tournaments such as the Easter Bowl, Clark said.

“From the day I started working with her, she had an insatiable desire to be on the tennis court,” Clark said.

When he first met the 6-foot-1 athlete, she was awkward, he said, “like a newborn giraffe” on the courts.

“The thing is, she would find a way to win,” Clark said. “She’d beat some kids that had no business losing to her just because she figured out a way to get the ball back (in the court).”

Rickert said she’s has had wonderful guidance from her family.

Her parents are both former University of Minnesota collegiate athletes. Her dad played professional basketball and helps with her strength and conditioning.

“I hit with (my mom) a lot,” Rickert said, “She’s actually one of my coaches, I’d say.”

And her grandfather, Kent Anderson, who coaches Sandpoint High School’s tennis team, is another coach involved in her training.

“We’re fortunate to have a network of people here,” Rickert’s mother said. “Everyone is supportive.”

Clark, who previously has worked with collegiate tennis players, believes Rickert is at a level where she can hold her own in the collegiate level.

“She hits with people who were former college players, very recently college players, or (athletes) that are on their break,” Clark said. “She does just fine.”

For now, she’s focused on going up against players her own age. Although she’s home-schooled – the flexible school days allow her to regularly compete in USTA tournaments – she’s been able to compete this spring on her grandfather’s team at Sandpoint.

Through it all, she keeps her smile and personality. Clark said Rickert’s well-liked by her competitors, which is a strength in the small world of tennis.

“She is a social magnet,” Clark said. “So when she goes to a different place, she has friends that she makes and they root for (her) and (and are her) warm-up partners – they want to be with her.”

Although college is a few years away for the freshman, Rickert remains focused on a Division I tennis future.

“I love tennis so much,” Rickert said. “No matter what I do, I definitely want it a part of my life.”