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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 23, 2018

Charoenkul wins tennis award

FHS sophomore named Girls Tennis All-Iowa Athlete of the Year
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Jun 30, 2017
Photo by: SUBMITTED Fairfield High School sophomore Anatta Charoenkul meets NBA Star Shaquille O’Neal Saturday during the Des Moines Register Sports Awards Banquet. Charoenkul was named the Girls Tennis All-Iowa Athlete of the Year.

The accolades continue to roll in for Anatta Charoenkul, and she’s just two years into her high school career.

Charoenkul was named the Girls Tennis All-Iowa Athlete of the Year Saturday at the Des Moines Register Sports Awards Banquet in the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Not only did she receive a nice trophy from the banquet, she also got to meet NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s so tall,’” she said. “He’s a great basketball player and he’s really nice. He asked me what grade I was in, how old I was, and he congratulated me on the award.”

The Fairfield youngster was one of three finalists in her category invited to the banquet, the other girls being the 2A state champion and another who got second place in both doubles and singles.

“The other two finalists were seniors, and I was only a sophomore,” Charoenkul began. “I was preparing a speech, but I wasn’t expecting to win.”

Winning is a familiar feeling to Charoenkul, who never lost a match all season on her way to winning the 1A state championship. She was the first state tennis champion in Fairfield’s history. The year prior, she lost only once, in the state championship game.

Charoenkul was thrilled when her name was read over the loudspeaker in the Wells Fargo Arena announcing the Girls Tennis All-Iowa Athlete of the Year. Her parents, her personal trainer and his family were there to congratulate her in person. She could think of only one thing as she approached the podium to accept the award.

“I hope I don’t fall when I’m going up the stairs,” she said. “A thousand people were watching me walk. I tried to recite the speech I planned, but as soon as I got up there, I forgot everything. Two seconds later, it all came back to me.”

Charoenkul said she decided to memorize the speech instead of reading it from a page. In the speech, she thanked her FHS tennis coach Heidi Grunwald, her personal coach Chan Pongsayaporn, her mother and father, her friends and her teammates for their endless support.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.

Grunwald said she was overjoyed to learn Charoenkul received the award. She said the sophomore had an “awesome” year of tennis, and for her to be named the Girls Tennis All-Iowa Athlete of the Year was a fitting end.

“Let’s hope next year is just as rewarding for her,” Grunwald said.

Winning is familiar to Charoenkul. Taking time off is not. Charoenkul rested for five days after the season, then went right back to the courts. She tries to hit at least four times per week year-round. She hits with Chan or anyone willing partner from Fairfield’s tennis community.

Despite having lost only one match in two years, Charoenkul says there are parts of her game she can improve.

“I definitely want to work on my offensive game. I’m trying to hit more offensive shots and try to end the rallies sooner,” Charoenkul said.

When Charoenkul isn’t playing for Fairfield High School in the spring, she’s playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments across Iowa and into neighboring states.

“I play in USTA tournaments in the summer, fall, winter and into the spring. I take a break to play for FHS,” she chuckled.

Charoenkul’s parents taught her the game when she was 9. At first, she didn’t think it was that interesting, but the more she played, the more she liked it. Within two years, she was competing in tennis tournaments.

Local tennis enthusiasts can see Charoenkul in action when she competes in the USTA tournament Fairfield hosts in August.


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