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Lake Central junior balances playing in Northwest Indiana Orchestra, leading tennis team

Lake Central junior balances playing in Northwest Indiana Orchestra, leading tennis team

Leah Palkon, Lake Central

Lake Central junior Leah Palkon is 6-1 this season, hoping to lead the Indians to a Duneland Athletic Conference title.

ST. JOHN — Learning to play an instrument like the clarinet takes time, patience and effort.

Lake Central junior Leah Palkon plays the woodwind for the Northwest Indiana Orchestra. She also plays the racket for the Indians. She’s not confused about which is the priority these days.

“Tennis is definitely more important than clarinet. I was a lot more invested in middle school with band,” she said. “I think the focus it takes for both of them is similar. It took a lot of focus and work to get good at both of them.”

Palkon grew up in competitive gymnastics. At about 12, she started to burn out and was looking for something else.

“I was just kind of hopping around sports when I did the LC tennis camp,” she said.

Former Indians No. 1 singles player Kristi Tinsley asked Palkon to join her at lessons. She knew quickly that she had a new sport.

“She just started to hit a lot. Got a little bit of help on the side but from Day 1 got better and better,” Lake Central coach Bryan Szalonek said. “She’s an amazing kid. She’ll listen to coaching. Sometimes when you get elite players they think they always know what they’re doing. But we’re old and wise and we’ve played a little tennis. She’s very coachable.”

Szalonek said Palkon does just about everything better than most. She’s got a powerful forehand, a reliable backhand, good serves and a strong mental game.

Still, Palkon spent her freshman season at No. 2 singles behind Bell Watts. She had to fight for No. 1 this year, winning a couple challenge matches.

Earning that top spot wasn’t the most important thing for her, though. Improving was.

“I see a lot of (other school’s No. 1 singles players) outside of high school. They’re really my peers and my friends,” Palkon said. “But yeah, it is nice to be able to play the best on the other teams.”

Lake Central is 6-1 as a team, as of May 1. Palkon is 6-1, losing only to Highland’s Dana Savarino. She’s 23-5 overall.

“She’s a team player but we know she’s happy to be No. 1,” Szalonek said. “She’s very competitive. She wants to win, always.”

Quarantine didn’t affect Palkon the way it did a lot of area tennis players. She took a month off but was able to hit with a small group, including some college players.

She was preparing to lead LC to a Duneland Athletic Conference title. Szalonek believes sectional championships for Palkon and the team are both possible.

“As a team, my goal is to beat Crown Point in sectionals and move on to regionals,” Palkon said. “Individually, this is just my first year as No. 1 singles, so I just want to see how far I can go.”


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