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National Roundup
Tennis Recruiting Welcomes the Class of 2023
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Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. School starts back up, and there are new sixth-graders walking the halls. This week's rankings at the Tennis Recruiting Network are the first of the 2016-17 season - and they also mark the arrival of the Class of 2023.

The calendar at TennisRecruiting.net runs from September 1 through August 31. We calculated the final rankings for the outgoing seniors last week, and we bade farewell to the Class of 2016.

This week, the first week of September, we welcome the new sixth graders from the Class of 2023. Tuesday and Wednesday's rankings are the first official lists for the 2023 boys and girls, respectively:

This article takes a brief glance at some of the top youngsters in the Class of 2023. These kids have performed quite well in the 12s division - as well as the 14s and 16s.

 

Isabelle Kouzmanov (Novi, Mich.)

Tennis has always been important to eleven-year-old Isabelle Kouzmanov. Her father first put a racquet in her hand when she was three years old.

Top 6th-grader Isabelle Kouzmanov
"We were playing with those big, foam balls at home and Isabelle was having a blast smashing them with all her might," said her father, Marin Kouzmanov. "For her very young age she had impressive eye-hand coordination and strength."

As she starts middle school, the tennis talent is obvious. In her first year in the 12s, Kouzmanov has produced some impressive results, competing in the 12s division nationally as well as in the 14s division - and higher - in the USTA Midwest Section. Highlights include finishing second, third, and first at three National Selection Tournaments while posting five combined singles wins at this summer's USTA Clay Court and Hard Court Nationals.

"Isabelle is a natural athlete with an aggressive game and impressive striking abilities," said her father. "Her timing is great - which allows her to take the ball very early."

Kouzmanov's father also serves as her coach. The elder Kouzmanov works as a full-time tennis professional at The Sports Club of Novi where she practices.

"We are currently working on her footwork," said her father. "Isabelle is very fast and moves great on the court, but when she gets tired her footwork slows down. For her aggressive game, she needs her feet to be 100% all the time."

The 5'2" right-hander is an only child, and lives with her parents, Maya and Marin Kouzmanov, in Novi, Mich.

"We are homeschooling Isabelle," said her mother. "Homeschooling works great for us because it gives our family the flexibility to put together tennis, other activities and her dad's busy schedule."

Although she homeschools, the younger Kouzmanov has lots of interaction with her peers - where she thrives.

"Luckily, Isabelle is a fast learner, and that saves some school time. Once a week she goes to a homeschool group for five hours and she loves it. Being taught by professional teachers is great, but being around friends is important for her. Isabelle is a social kid, and she loves spending time with peers."

 

Kyle Kang (Fullerton, Calif.)

There are not many junior tennis players who are as prolific as Kyle Kang.

Top 6th-grader Kyle Kang.
Kang competed in 28 tournaments over the past year, posting a 62-32 record that includes ten victories over five-star opponents in older classes. Kang also took advantage of the challenging competition in California, with 27 of his 28 tournaments taking place in the Golden State.

Kang is the son of Aeri and David Kang, and the Kang family is very tight-knit. On the court, Kang has been inspired by his two older siblings: five-star eighth-grader Colin and three-star junior Kaylee.

"Kyle's strength and advantages in the sport come from his two older siblings," said his mother, Aeri. "Kyle practices with them, and their spirit of competition rubs off on him."

The younger Kang strives to emulate both his brother and his sister.

"Colin is self-disciplined, passionate, and intense in everything he strives to achieve. His passion for tennis is contagious for Kyle. Kaylee is an exceptional role model - she balances the rigors of tennis training with unyielding strive for academics. She sets the bar pretty high for both of her brothers."

Kang works with Dave Mann at the Fullerton Tennis Center.

"Coach Mann trains Kyle with an individualized approach that enhances his strengths - allowing Kyle to learn his skills outside the box," said his mother. "There is a significant emphasis on match play to mimic actual game situations."

The 4'10" right-hander plays an all-court game with a strong forehand and a tricky slice backhand.

"Kyle anticipates plays very well and transitions quickly from defense to offense," said his mother. "He has a variety of shots and mixes them very well to dictate play."

As noted above, the Kang family is very disciplined, and they make the most of their time. All three Kang children are strong in the classroom.

"Both Kyle and Colin are proud participants of the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) program from Johns Hopkins and take additional courses to further supplement their education," said his mother. "Academic fundamentals and strengths are a top priority in the Kang family."

But through it all, the California native has plenty of time to be a normal kid.

"Tennis, piano, school and Hopkins classes are a lot to do for Kyle, and all Kang siblings are quite busy," said his mother. "He does need encourgament from his parents, but I think self-motivation is what makes all this possible for him. Kyle truly enjoys the competition, the skills, and his time on the court. He savors his victories, but does not sulk very long over his defeats. He really just picks right up."

 

Eleana Yu (Mason, Ohio)

Eleven-year-old rising sixth-grader Eleana Yu has made some huge statements on the court over the past year. Many achivements leap off the page of her 51-10 record that includes seven wins over older Blue Chip players - and eleven more wins over older 5-Star opponents.

Top 6th-grader Eleana Yu
Yu placed first, second, and third in the three national selection tournaments she played, won a pair of Midwest Section championships, posted a 4-0 record at the National Spring Team Championships, and won a bronze ball in doubles as well as the Gold Consolation Event at the USTA Girls 12 Nationals.

"Eleana is very athletic," said her mother, Wei Lu. "She has natural talent for all the sports she has tried - swimming, basketball and tennis. She is very competitive and wants to get better every day."

The Ohio native is the daughter of Wei and Chao Yu. The 4'10" right-hander was born in Cincinnati, and the Yus now live 45 minutes north in Mason, Ohio - just outside Cincinnati's 275 loop. Eleana has one brother, 2016 Ohio Division 2 High School Singles Champion Kevin Yu.

Her older brother helped get her into the sport.

"She kind of followed Kevin's path," said her mother. "When she was about five or six years old, she started to try tennis. She loved hitting the big foam ball with her brother in our basement."

Yu works with Brian Schubert and Matt Dektas at EX Tennis Academy in the Five Seasons Sports Club in Cincinnati.

"Eleana has a very special competitive spirit," said Coach Schubert. "She believes in herself and thinks she can beat almost anyone. Like many great athletes, she loves to compete and doesn't shy away from a challenging match-up."

Right now, Yu is working with her coaches to improve her serve and her forehand.

"Eleana knows both areas will need to improve significantly to win more against bigger and older girls at the top levels," said her mother.

For the Yu family, academics comes first, and Eleana's parents work hard to ensure their daughter does not get overwhelmed.

"Balance is relative easy at young age," said her mother. "It will get tougher as she gets older. Luckily, the school is providing us some flexibility on her training schedule, and her coaches are great enablers too - they sometimes hit with Eleana early in the morning before school starts."

The family seems to be succeeding.

"We have tried to keep tennis fun and not make her play a huge national schedule. The [Girls 12 Nationals in August] was Eleana's first super national. She is doing great at school - in gifted programs and honors classes. Eleana is also very mature. She knows both of her parents work and understands that her brother is taking a lot of attention right now since he is a senior in high school. She is very understanding and never complains."

 

Hudson Rivera (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.)

When the boys' rankings are published tomorrow, it is very likely that 12-year-old Hudson Rivera will top the sixth-grade list.

Top 6th-grader Hudson Rivera.
Over the past year, Rivera has compiled a 39-11 record playing predominantly in the 14s division. His victories include six wins over three-star seventh graders and a perfect 7-0 mark against four-star eighth graders. Rivera is a strong doubles player as well, winning a silver ball in doubles with Andrew Salu at the USTA 12 Winter Nationals when he was only eleven.

Rivera has always been competitive and interested in sports, and tennis caught his attention early on.

"I started out playing a lot of team sports," said the 5'4" California native. "I was looking for an individual sport when I tried tennis. I loved it from the first time I tried it."

Rivera was born in Rossmoor, and he currently resides with his family in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. There he trains with Larry Stefanki at the Del Mar Country Club.

"Right now we are working on effective rallies," siad Rivera. "I am trying to hit twenty balls in a row that are heavy and work my opponent side to side."

Rivera is the son of Matt and Leigh Ann Rivera, who are understandably proud of their son - on and off the court.

"Hudson works very hard, puts in lots of time practicing, and has a great attitude," said his father Matt. "He is an aggressive player who loves to come to the net, and he is a fast defensive player. He also has an uncanny ability to get out of hard situations."

Although tennis is a huge part of Rivera's life, his family makes sure he has time for many other activities.

"Hudson plays soccer, basketball, and football for fun on a weekly basis. We are also proud that he is a straight A student - and that he won the Jean Kremm Sportsmanship Award and has been recognized at many other tournaments with sportsmanship awards.

 

Starting this week, and for the next 366 weeks, the Tennis Recruiting Network will provide rankings for the Class of 2023. Please join me in welcoming our newest players to TennisRecruiting.net!

 

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