Gaby and Katie Soden have always been close. The sisters are 13 months apart in age.
They’re straight-A students, have earned a second-degree taekwondo black and standout as softball players. But their bond appears to be strongest on the tennis court.
Five years after picking up tennis for the first with their father, Dr. Kevin Soden, Gaby and Katie now play year-round on the United States Tennis Assocation junior circuit and star on the Myers Park High team.
I think everybody has improved their game this offseason and is working hard to get better now.
Myers Park tennis coach Ed Flynn
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Katie, 16, a junior, enters the season as the No. 2 singles player, while Gaby, 17, and a senior, returns as No. 3. Together they form the No. 1 Myers Park doubles’ team.
They speak another language on the court, as they communicate with everything from eye contact to hand signals to a combination of French and English they have dubbed “Frenglish.”
“We are usually talking on the court, but a lot of times in middle of a point with just a look or signal, Gaby already knows what I’m going to do before I even do it,” Katie said. “We are a great team, because she knows exactly how to push my buttons, and I feel like I know how to motivate her.”
Gaby agrees: “Playing against a doubles’ team with strong camaraderie can be really intimidating,” said Gaby, team co-captain with fellow senior Emily Hall. “The fact they we practice and play so much together, and even against other singles almost every day, gives us an advantage over a lot of teams.”
Despite their cooperation, the sisters have opposite approaches to the game.
Katie, bigger and stronger at 5-foot-10, prefers to stay at the baseline and pound out ground strokes. Gaby, meanwhile, quicker and more of a finesse player at 5-foot-6, likes to put constant pressure on opponents by attacking the net.
“Both of their games complement each other so well that they usually end points very quickly,” said Myers Park tennis coach Ed Flynn. “That can be very deflating for their opponents.”
After getting off to a slow start in doubles last season, Gaby and Katie Soden (15-7 overall in 2014) got hot. They won seven of their last 10 matches and advanced to the 4A state doubles semifinal, where they lost to three-time 4A state champs Sammi Smith and Jordan Strickland of Panther Creek.
“It was absolutely fabulous to watch as a parent,” Kevin Soden said. “I told them to relish each moment, because you never know if it’s going to happen again. They both realize how special it is to be able to play together.”
The Sodens also enjoyed a run with the team, as the Mustangs won their first 16 matches of the 2014 season. The only loss was, again, to Panther Creek, in the 4A state championship.
Flynn says the entire team has a family feel, and the Soden sisters will help set that tone again, with close friends returning including Maddie Weber (No. 1 singles last year) and Aubrey Bader (No. 6).
The Mustang lineup also could feature another pair of sisters, as Elisabeth and Emma Drake have a chance at key roles.
“Myers Park tennis is a blast because we are a little family that carries over whether we are in or out of season,” Katie Soden said. “Everyone cares so much about each other, and that has a lot to do with our success. I don’t think we would be nearly as good a team if we weren’t all as close as friends.”
“I think everybody has improved their game this offseason and is working hard to get better now,” said Flynn, who led his 2008 team to a state title, with runner-up finishes in 2009, 2010 and 2014, “but there is no sense of entitlement. Everything we accomplish on this team is earned.”
One of the secrets to the Soden sisters’ success is daily matches with the coaches and even parents. Flynn and Kevin Soden often team up or with players to challenge them. The competitions often simulate the intensity of a postseason playoff.
“This team really goes after each other, even in practice,” Flynn said. “I think that daily competition helps us a lot in big matches.”
No two players go at each other harder than Gaby and Katie, but they are each other’s No. 1 fans. With this their final season together, they are focused on soaking in every minute.
“I can’t really imagine playing without my sister,” Gaby Soden said. “I don’t think I’ll ever find a better doubles partner.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: email@example.com.