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Tennis and writing a love match for Pomona-Pitzer freshman

Samantha Mae Coyiuto, 18, isn't just the No. 2 player on her college tennis team; she's an accomplished author with four children's books published in Philippines.

May 07, 2013|By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times
  • Pomona-Pitzer's Samantha Mae Coyiuto is 21-6, best on the team.
Pomona-Pitzer's Samantha Mae Coyiuto is 21-6, best on the team. (Jeremy S. Kniffin )

By the time she was 10, Samantha Mae Coyiuto was a published author in the Philippines. By the time she was 16, she had four children's books published.

Now she's 18 and goes by just Mae and is a student at Pomona-Pitzer, where she plays for the women's tennis team, ranked No. 10 in NCAA Division III.

Playing mostly No. 2 in singles as a freshman this year, Coyiuto is 21-5, best on the team. No one else on the team has more than 13 singles wins. She rarely plays doubles but is 4-1 when she does.

The Sagehens finished the season Saturday and received an invitation Monday for the Division III tournament after playing a schedule in which 11 opponents were nationally ranked. They finished 7-1 in the tough Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, losing only to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Pomona will play in a Division III regional at Claremont that runs Friday through Sunday. The Sagehens received an opening-round bye and will play this Saturday against the winner of a match between Whitman College of Walla Walla, Wash., and Redlands.

Last fall Coyiuto got to the semifinals in her first college tournament, the ITA West Region Championships, before losing to the top seed, Kristin Lim of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. It was a 64-player format.

It is difficult to decide which is the most notable of Coyiuto's accomplishments — her tennis success, the fact she has already written four books, or that she hopes to open a library in her home town of Makati City, a business center in the Philippines. According to her mother, Elena, Makati City has several tennis courts, including at the Manila Polo Club, near where Coyiuto grew up.

"When I was six," Coyiuto said, "I began tagging along with my mother and an older sister who was taking lessons. Yes, I was the annoying tag-along.

"But by the time I was eight, the coach wanted to teach me, too."

Pomona's Ann Lebedeff, who in 36 years of coaching has worked with hundreds of players, said none has been as humble as Coyiuto. In fact, Lebedeff is trying to get Coyiuto to hold her head up higher on the court, to act as if she expects to win.

When Coyiuto was 12, she came to the U.S. for a tennis camp in Ojai, and it was then, she said, "I knew I just loved the sport."

Coyiuto has long admired Roger Federer and has adopted his aggressive style, though at 5 feet 4 she certainly lacks that kind of power.

In addition to her writing, Coyiuto has illustrated her four books, the most recent of which is a collection of short stories titled "Flight to the Stars and Other Stories."

"I liked reading," she said. "I'm a huge Archie comic fan and I loved Roald Dahl and Nancy Drew. When I was six, my mom had a computer in the living room. We were told to never touch that computer.

"One day when she was at work, I touched the computer. I saw the power-point and clip-art stuff and put them on random sites and then started writing stories to go with them. My mom was kind of half and half. Half mad that I touched the computer but half proud. She supported me and got me into creative writing classes."

Elena said her youngest daughter "always had a sense of wonder and adventure, even as a child. And she expressed this in the stories she wrote. But she is also very independent-minded. About 10 years ago we were vacationing in Australia, the whole family, and were eating at a restaurant. It was by the beach and suddenly we realized Mae was missing. It took my husband and I an hour of frantic searching before we realized she was jogging. 'Training,' in her word.

"It has remained a mystery to me how Samantha has become so independent despite our family's tendency to baby her, as she is the youngest of our four."

Recruiting athletes at a Division III school is often hit and miss, and Lebedeff said she received a rather grainy tape from Coyiuto. "I googled her," the coach said, "and the first thing that came up was that she was an author. I was intrigued."

The only thing Lebedeff wasn't sure about was the type of competition Coyiuto was facing at home. The Philippines isn't known for its tennis stars. "But, depending on how hard she works," Lebedeff said, "she can go a long way with her tennis."

Coyiuto said she wouldn't necessarily be drawn to tennis after her undergraduate career. She would like to attend USC's film school and eventually be in the film business. But for now, possibly winning a conference title and maybe playing in the NCAA tournament is good.

There might even be a book in that.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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