CHAMPAIGN — On the way to becoming the area’s best girls’ tennis player, Allison Hansen always found herself matched up against the opponent’s premier singles player.
That’s the obligation of holding the No. 1 position on a team.
Hansen is no stranger to tough matches. Or success.
She played No. 1 singles for Centennial since her freshman season. As a senior, the Big 12 Conference champion and sectional titlist earned Area Player of the Year honors.
“Playing No. 1 is hard because almost every team has at least one good player,” Hansen said. “Even when our team is playing a weaker team, I still have to take my match seriously and try my best.
“However, I wouldn’t want to play any other spot because beating those really good players always feels good and playing those tough matches is what helps you improve.”
Hansen comes from a family of tennis players and took her first lesson as a 5-year-old.
“I’ve been playing ever since,” she said.
Her mother (LuAnn) and her father (Steve) were high school tennis players. An aunt (Tracy Tietge) played collegiately at Northern Iowa, and a grandfather (Ron Tietge) played at Muscatine (Iowa) and for the Army.
In her early years in the game, Allison Hansen said visits to Atkins Tennis Center were fun. One of her first instructors has continued to tutor Hansen for more than a decade, even after a move to Iowa City, Iowa.
“She has always trained at Atkins and always worked with Alex Voss,” said Hansen’s mother, LuAnn. “She started taking lessons with him when she was around 7 years old and has continued up through the present time. He and his wife relocated to Iowa City in January of 2012, and Allie drives to Iowa City to work with him as often as she can. Alex has helped Allie with many tennis and life decisions.”
Hansen learned about sportsmanship in her first tournament, the summer after her fourth-grade year.
“I played a girl who was a little older that I had taken lessons with before,” Allison Hansen said. “During the match, I broke a string for the first time and only had one racket. The girl I was playing with had an old racket in the car, so her dad let me play with it.”
She lost that match, returned the racket and faced a later consolation-bracket match.
“I used a demo racket from Atkins that was a little too big and too heavy for me,” Hansen said. “I lost that match in a third-set tiebreaker.”
Success wasn’t a prominent part of her early years in tennis.
“I lost a lot when I was younger,” Hansen said.
That pattern has changed. She is the second-ranked player in her age group in Middle Illinois (behind Decatur’s Tracy Kuhle) and is ranked 73rd in the Midwest.
In high school, playing No. 1 throughout her career, Hansen amassed at least 20 wins every season and concluded with a 103-18 career record. She was a three-time state qualifier. As a freshman, she bypassed the IHSA postseason series to participate in an event sponsored by the USTA.
According to available records, Hansen broke what is believed to be Centennial’s career record for singles wins in her second-round state match, a 7-6 (4), 6-1 win against Peoria Richwoods’ Tiffany Cheng. That was career win No. 102. The school’s best previous documented singles mark was by 1997 graduate Kindal Shores, 101-18.
Hansen’s ascension was possible, Centennial coach Connie Hoagland said, because of her commitment.
“A lot of times, she would go to a second practice session at Atkins Tennis Center in the evenings after high school practice,” Hoagland said. “She is very dedicated to tennis.”
She also is one of the students at Centennial who share the No. 1 ranking academically. Hansen has a 4.79 weighted grade point on a 4.00 scale.
“When I travel for tournaments, I usually have to bring my homework and work on it in the car or in the hotel,” Hansen said.
It has never been all about tennis or schoolwork for Hansen. Her multitude of other interests include playing the piano and flute. She also has a background in dance, gymnastics and swimming.
She stopped dance in fourth grade because, “I moved up to a better group in tennis that was on the same night as the dance class I was taking, and I decided that I didn’t like dance enough to try and make it work,” Hansen said.
She made her dual-sport participation in tennis and swimming for Lincolnshire Fields Country Club work for years.
“I only swam in the summer, and as I got older, it got harder and harder to compete with the other kids who were swimming year-round,” Hansen said. “For several summers, I would go to a couple of hours of swim team practice in the mornings, leave an hour early and go straight to tennis an hour late and play tennis for a few hours,” Hansen said.
Her mom remembers how those days went by in a rush.
“She would go to swim practice for almost two hours,” LuAnn Hansen said, “then jump out of the pool, and I would drive her to three hours of tennis practice, feeding her in the car.
“Allie may have considered swimming in high school if the season was not the same as tennis.”
At one point, Allison Hansen recalled preferring swimming over tennis, but that changed.
“I decided the water was too cold, and it wasn’t fun any more,” she said. “It was too much to try and do both, especially if I wanted to play tennis tournaments in the summer.”
The majority of the USTA tournaments focus on singles. Hansen, however, enjoys doubles.
“I would say I’m better at singles and like singles better because I can control more in singles than doubles,” she said. “I practice doubles a lot and think doubles is a lot more fun.”
For one, there’s the camaraderie with a teammate.
“It’s more exciting because you’re not alone,” Hansen said. “You always have someone to calm you down if you get upset, and when you lose or win, you have someone who is feeling the exact same emotions.”
Her doubles partner, Centennial freshman Lauren Neitzel, credited Hansen for making her feel comfortable in the Chargers’ lineup.
“She is funny and a great person in general, so she made playing together and hanging out off the court fun,” Neitzel said.
Though Mom provided the transportation when Allison was younger, she didn’t need to push the sport.
“She never tired of playing and always wanted to take lessons and play as much as she could,” LuAnn Hansen said. “I don’t remember her ever complaining about having to practice, and she has been the one who has wanted to play in tournaments frequently.”
When Allison Hansen is not playing tennis, the sport is usually on her mind.
“She loves to watch tennis, and one of her favorite things is going to the U.S. Open and other professional tournaments,” LuAnn Hansen said. “She has always been a ball runner for the Challenger Tournament at Atkins since she was really little and has also been a ball runner for the (Illini) men’s and women’s teams during their home matches.”
Allison Hansen, who will turn 18 in July, plans to continue her tennis career at George Washington in Washington, D.C., where she will major in biomedical engineering.
“After college, I will probably take a break from tennis and focus on medical school,” Hansen said.
Getting to know Allison Hansen
Why she’s Player of the Year: Went an area-best 29-3, playing at No. 1 singles. Sectional champion qualified for state for the third consecutive year in singles. Won three of five matches at state, the third straight year she won at least twice at state.
Season highlight: “I’ve gotten a lot more consistent since last year and I’ve gotten more mentally tough. I’ve also started actually hitting my backhand instead of always slicing it. I can still improve by continuing to work on the mental side of the game and not worry so much about the score. It’s an honor to get this award because I know there are other good players who have also worked hard and had successful seasons,” Hansen said.
A few of my favorite things: Fried shrimp ... Roger Federer ... AP chemistry ... “Finding Nemo” ... Taylor Swift ... Flat Top Grill ... My mom, LuAnn ... A red Volvo ... Babysitting ... On my bucket list, to go skydiving, to finish a marathon and to travel the world and see the Northern Lights and go on an African safari.
About Hansen: “For me being a freshman, she definitely helped me to relax on the court and helped me be more confident in my game. She always pushed us as a team and gave us something to reach for to inspire us to be better players. She was a good example and gave me something to strive for during the rest of my years at Centennial.” — Lauren Neitzel, Hansen’s doubles partner
Girls’ Tennis Players of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2012 Allison Hansen Centennial
2011 Madie Baillon St. Thomas More
2010 Madie Baillon St. Thomas More
2009 Katarina Marjanovic Urbana
2008 Katarina Marjanovic Urbana
2007 Katarina Marjanovic Urbana
2006 Lindsey Hallett Champaign Central
2005 Lindsey Hallett Champaign Central
2004 Kenisha Webb Urbana
Girls’ Tennis Coaches of the Year
2012 Mark Bacys Danville
2011 Mark Bacys Danville
All-Area Honorable Mention
NAME SCHOOL YR.
Sanjana Anil Centennial Sr.
Carson Arends GCMS Jr.
Madie Baillon St. Thomas More Sr.
Katie Carroll Urbana So.
Taylor Ellis Danville So.
Abby Fischer Watseka So.
Courtney Hart Danville Sr.
Anne Johnson Watseka So.
Sophie Kim Centennial So.
Rachel Lewis Danville Jr.
Rebecca Lewis Danville So.
Anna Lundquist Mahomet-Seymour Fr.
Emily Lydic Centennial Sr.
Lauren Neitzel Centennial Fr.
Neha Patel Danville Jr.
Shelby Quigley Centennial Jr.
Amy Shah Danville Jr.
Meaghan Sharp GCMS Jr.
Renata Smith Champaign Central Jr.
Alyssa Vodacek St. Thomas More Sr.
Final N-G tennis rankings
3. St. Thomas More
7. Champaign Central