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Huang sisters keeping it in the family at Nationals

Jennifer and Megan Huang 

By Ashley Marshall

Two sisters. Four schools. Nine trips to Nationals.

For siblings Jennifer and Megan Huang, competing at the Tennis On Campus National Championship is becoming something of an annual tradition. And even though their studies have taken them to different parts of the country, they can always rely on a trip to Nationals to bring the family together.

Jennifer, 25, and Megan, 23, each competed at Nationals for the first time in 2011, Jennifer as a sophomore biology and evolutionary anthropology major at Duke and her younger sister as a public health freshman at the University of North Carolina.

The sisters each came back to Nationals with their respective schools in 2012 and 2013, and Megan returned again in 2014. Graduate studies took them away from their home state of North Carolina: Jennifer went to study medicine at Vanderbilt and Megan went to Harvard to earn her master’s degree in global health.

This week, the sisters returned to Nationals again, marking Megan’s fifth trip to the coed collegiate tennis showcase and Jennifer’s fourth. Defying the odds, the sisters have never met on the Nationals stage.

“I was really excited, so I told everybody,” Megan said when she found out Vanderbilt had booked its place to Cary, N.C., host to this year’s National Championship. “Not just on my team, but everyone at my school. I told them I was missing the rest of the week because I was going to a national tournament and my sister was going to be there. Everyone thinks it’s cool that we compete at such a high level against each other.

“We would see each other pretty regularly when we went to school in North Carolina, but this is cool because since we’re so far away from each other now, we not only get to play tennis but we get a chance to see each other and our parents.”

Tennis is not the only thing the sisters have in common. They played on the same soccer team in middle school, attended Chinese school together and both play the piano. And while the sisters competed against each other in state tennis tournaments, they’re happy that they’ve never had to square off on the opposite side of the net at Nationals.

“I won all the points when we played against each other, so there’s no friction,” Jennifer joked. “I hate losing to her even in a board game. I think she’s better at doubles and I’m better at singles. I think we both have a comparable level, but we’re better at different things. She’s better at volleying and I’m better at moving.

Added Megan: “I think we’re the same – we feed each other’s competitiveness. In high school and middle school, we were always competitive to the point we would never play against each other. Once we got to college we kind of got over ourselves. You want to win, it doesn’t matter who it is against. But at the end of the match, we’re OK.”

Megan, who hits a double-handed shot from both wings and is the taller of the siblings, said she was on the fence about whether she would travel with the team this week. But once she heard Jennifer would be representing Vanderbilt, her mind was made up.

“I copy what she does,” Megan said. “When she said she was going, I said, ‘Well, I have to go now.’”

Watching his daughters compete in round-robin play on Thursday, father Tony said he was excited to be cheering on his girls in Cary, a short drive from his Chapel Hill home. And with Vanderbilt going 2-1 in Pool A and advancing to the silver bracket and Harvard finishing pool play 0-3 and moving into the copper bracket, his loyalties won’t be divided during the final two days of competition.

“I’ve never watched them play each other,” said Huang, who has watched his children represent their schools in Cary three times and in Surprise, Ariz., once. “It’s not intentional, it just didn’t happen. Even in high school and junior events, I never saw them against each other. This is a very good lifetime hobby and I’m glad they didn’t give up playing [after graduating]. I’m proud of all of their achievements.”