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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | Cardinal Rule

Jacobs Makes Move to Improve

April 26, 1998|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OJAI — A year ago, Jieun Jacobs was the top-ranked 14-year-old girls' tennis player in Southern California.

She wanted more.

Her powerful ground strokes made her a consistent tournament winner and placed her among the elite baseliners of her age group.

She wanted to be better.

In pursuit of that end, Jacobs made a decision last summer that she hoped would change her life. Leaving behind her home of 15 years in Valencia, her longtime friends from Hart High and her supportive family, Jacobs enrolled at the newly formed Weil Tennis Academy here--a school for those who are serious about tennis.

And Jacobs is serious. She advanced to the final in the 16-and-under division of the Ojai Valley tennis tournament before losing Saturday, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, to left-handed Caylan Leslie of Newport Beach, a finalist in the division for the second consecutive year.

"It was a really hard decision to make," Jacobs said of her move to Ojai. "But basically it came down to tennis. There isn't a lot of tennis where I live and I wanted to get better."

For several years, Jacobs commuted daily to Calabasas for instruction at the Calabasas Racquet Club.

Her mother, Eunhee Jacobs, drove Jieun to practices and tournaments and said the countless hours in the car began to strain the mother-daughter relationship.

"There was a lot of tension," Eunhee said. "I was driving her and watching her play all the time."

The family first heard about the Weil Tennis Academy last spring.

The school would allow students to play tennis five hours a day as well as provide educational and boarding facilities.

"It was like a gamble," Eunhee said of sending Jieun to a new school. "We didn't know what to expect."

But because of the proximity of the school and Coach Skip Redondo's reputation, the family decided the risk was worth it.

"We wouldn't have sent her to a place in Florida," Eunhee said. "Because it was close, that was the biggest factor."

Redondo said that while Jacobs had a tough time acclimating to life on her own at first, she has rapidly adjusted and is improving fast on the courts.

"She's beginning to mature," Redondo said. "She's disciplining herself better and it's showing on the court."

As a Hart freshman in the fall of 1996, Jacobs won the Foothill League individual title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Southern Section Individual tournament.

She said she is a much better player now, though injuries have prevented Jacobs from achieving her desired success level.

She has played through shin splints and tennis elbow over the last couple of months and hadn't reached a final since the Fiesta Bowl tournament in December.

"I think the main thing I want to do is have fun here and make sure that tennis stays fun," Jacobs said. "A couple of months ago, I wasn't having fun."

Her performance here, however, has her looking on the bright side.

"I think I'm finally getting my game together," she said. "I'm more in control and not as streaky. I used to just sit and pound from the baseline, now I'm not looking just to hit winners all the time."

Jacobs and her family have yet to decide if Jieun will return to Weil next year. They will sit down at the end of the year and make a decision.

"There are a lot of positives and a lot of negatives," Eunhee said. "It's too soon to say if it's worth it."

Jieun said that while she misses her friends and family a great deal, she is willing to make that sacrifice for her tennis career.

"It's been a pretty easy adjustment," she said. "If you're focused on what you're here for then that makes it easier. There are some sacrifices that you have to make."

Eunhee sees Jieun almost every weekend, but said she still misses her daughter a great deal.

Except for one thing, that is.

"I don't miss her messy room," she said.

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