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Win streak keeps growing for Fullerton's Shipley-Rinker
Mikayla Shipley-Rinker doesn’t know what her streak’s at. Could be 1,000 straight for all she knows.
Rinker doesn’t lose much, so excuse Fullerton Union High’s No. 1 singles player for not keeping track of the exact number. Through the weekend, it was 113, as in 113 straight regular-season sets won, a school record and likely a high – if not the high – Orange County mark.
Rinker last dropped a regular-season tennis set on Oct. 1, 2013, to Troy’s Brittanie Eraso. Now, all she does is win in September and October.
Including CIF matches, Rinker has lost to only three players in her three-year varsity career. She was 39-0 this season as of Monday.
When asked recently what Rinker’s greatest weakness is, Fullerton coach Leon Palmisano laughed.
“She doesn’t end points fast enough,” he said, “because she wants to keep hitting.”
Rinker is the defending Freeway League singles champion, well on her way to a repeat.
But Palmisano, now in his second year as head coach, said Rinker does much more for his program than collect wins.
“Four years ago, we’d play Troy, and our girls would automatically chalk that up as a loss,” he said. “Now we have girls who just recently picked up a racket believing they can go against Troy and win. Mikayla brought that confidence, and it’s infectious. It has changed our whole program.”
She, an only child, was given her first tennis racquet as a 5-year-old, a gift from an aunt and uncle who loved playing. She swung that thing for hours.
Rinker began playing right-handed, but after finding out she wrote with her left, a family friend had her start playing with her left. Rinker remembers it taking several weeks to adapt. Swinging left-handed felt “wrong” at first, she said.
But the discomfort wore off, and tennis soon became an obsession. By age 7, she was taking private lessons.
From ground strokes to simple rallies to serves and then specialty shots, Rinker learned how to play at a professional level. And because she was shorter than most girls her age, she had to master the minutiae: angles, spin, timing.
At age 9, Rinker joined the United States Tennis Association’s youth circuit, playing the occasional local weekend tournament between daily practice sessions. She was later homeschooled, which allowed her to compete at nationwide USTA tournaments against her age group’s best.
Rinker played year-round as a preteen, and as a 13-year-old playing in the 14s division, she won her first tournament.
“I trained in the morning,” she said, “then went to school in the afternoon, then trained at night. ... At the beginning of my eighth-grade year, I got a little tired of the pressure that came with competing. Tired of waking up early to train, of going back out there at night. But I had friends and family and coaches who encouraged me all the time, and all the work was so worth it.
“I’m glad I didn’t give it up.”
Rinker’s first high school win came on Sept. 3, 2013, against Western High. She then went 24-0 as Fullerton’s primary No. 1 singles player.
Then, Eraso beat her.
The USTA schedule is unlike other sports’ club or travel schedules in that it continues through the high school season. Rinker was a 15-year-old freshman playing in the USTA’s 16s division, and she regularly ran up against older, larger, more powerful players at tournaments.
She said Eraso, a senior in 2013 and now a sophomore letter winner at BYU, was the type of young auteur she struggled against on weekends.
“That’s when I knew I had to step up my game, step up my training,” she said. “You’ll always run into tougher, stronger, better girls, and that’s OK. You try not to have too high of expectations, but also not too low of expectations. You just go in and do it.”
Rinker won 27 consecutive regular-season sets to close her freshman year, including three in Fullerton’s lone Division 2 playoff match.
At the CIF-SS 2013 Girls Individual Tennis Championships, she lost, 6-2, 6-0, in the first round to Valencia High’s Emilee Duong.
“Awesome,” she called the experience.
Previously an assistant coach, Palmisano, a longtime special education teacher at Fullerton, took over the girls tennis program last season. The Indians finished third to Troy and Sunny Hills High in the Freeway League, and later lost, 11-7, to Cate High in the Division 2 wild-card round.
Rinker, meanwhile, went unbeaten in 47 regular-season sets, becoming Fullerton’s first league singles champion in nearly 30 years.
Later, at the 2014 CIF-SS Individual Championships, she fell just short of the Round of 32.
“I’m working toward my goal, so I feel good,” Rinker said. “I come out here and play confidently. I’m goal-oriented, so I’m satisfied with how far I’ve come.”
Rinker is a team captain this year, attempting to share with teammates – novices – knowledge she’s acquired over 10 years.
Palmisano said Rinker’s always the first to lend her time and resources. Her positivity and encouragement keeps newcomers loose, and Fullerton’s stock has gradually risen in Orange County as a result.
Rinker rarely skips practice, Palmisano said, but when she does, it’s because she’s off somewhere playing high-level tennis.
The two hours she spends practicing at Fullerton after school is just the beginning to her evening. Palmisano said his other players know what kind of time and effort Rinker puts in to be great.
“I’m trying to show the new girls how awesome tennis is,” Rinker said.
Nearly through her junior season, Rinker’s now eying colleges.
The University of Washington tops her list of preferred destinations, followed in no particular order by Virginia’s Liberty University and Stanford University. She said Stanford’s “a bit of a stretch, but anything can happen.” She’ll start sending emails to tennis coaches soon.
Of course, there are high school matches left to be played, and a winning streak to continue. November’s CIF-SS Individual Championships are right around the corner, and with so much to look forward to, how in the world does Rinker focus on the task at hand?
“I try to look at every day as one experience at a time,” she said. “I know next year will come, but there’s so much left to do now.”
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