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Le Mars sisters take tennis skills around Midwest

Thursday, April 8, 2010

(Photo)
Sisters Sidney (left) and Morgan Brower have so many tennis trophies and awards that they house more than a dozen of their prizes as their father's dental office in Le Mars. The girls are the daughters of Josh and Peggy Brower of Le Mars.
The best-known sisters in tennis have combined to win nearly $50 million in prize money during their careers.

Le Mars sisters Morgan and Sidney Brower haven't reached the level of the Venus and Serena Williams.

But when Morgan was 12, she defeated the No. 3 player from San Diego State Unversity to win the consolation finals in the singles tournament at the South Dakota Open in Sioux Falls to win money for the first time in her career.

Morgan registered just one loss in singles play at the tournament - to the former South Dakota Open singles champion who currently plays Division I tennis at Cal State.

In doubles play, Morgan teamed with the reigning South Dakota Open singles champion and fell to the same girl from Cal State and her partner from Azuza Pacific in the final match.

A family affair

The daughters of local dentist Josh Brower and his wife Peggy, Morgan and Sidney have been playing tennis since they were eight years old.

Tennis is in their blood - father Josh played overseas in Germany while in the military when the girls were very young - and Morgan, who is now 13 and a seventh-grader at Le Mars Community, had a tennis racket in her hand at an age where most parents would give children a softball or basketball.

"I didn't really start playing actual tennis until I was eight or nine," said Morgan, who has received instruction and lessons from her father since she was eight. "But when I was three or four, my dad played overseas and I'd hold the racket and try to hit it around. When I was eight I started playing and learning things and the basics."

Josh Brower said that his family got involved in tennis because it was a sport the whole family could play, regardless of age or gender.

"We were looking for an activity to do together as a family," he said.

The Brower sisters have a younger sister Johanna, who is seven, that will start playing with them soon and a four-year-old brother Joshua Simon who is at the "holding the racket" stage.

"He tries hard," Morgan said. "He can't really focus yet, so it's hard to teach him things, but he likes to play already."

Big sisters can be inspiring - that's how Sidney got interested in playing tennis.

"When you see other people playing, you always want to go do that too," said Sidney, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Le Mars Community. "When I see somebody playing basketball, it's always like 'Oh, that looks fun,' and when I saw Morgan play tennis, it just looked really fun."

Josh Brower has given his daughters lessons since they began playing, but the girls also go to various camps and receive some instruction in Sioux City and Sioux Falls.

"Our dad's always been our main coach," Morgan said. "But earlier in the year we were taking a high school group (at the Four Seasons)."

Morgan and Sidney believe they take many advantages from having their father as their coach.

"Having our dad as a coach is useful," Morgan said. "We can go and hit whenever we want. He's always there to help us. He really cares a lot about making sure that we love what we're doing and that we're having fun doing it too."

Like any other sport, practice is key for Morgan and Sidney to improve their tennis games.

With summer approaching, the girls are excited for increased opportunities to improve.

"I'm definitely looking forward to summer because we get to play every day," Morgan said. "We probably improve 10 times more (in the summer) than we do in the winter because we get to play so much more."

The girls might be at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in Kansas and Oklahoma.

"Those people that are living down in Oklahoma, they get to play every day but we have to wait for the season," said Morgan, who spends time during the winter practicing indoors with her sister at the Four Seasons in Sioux City.

Running toward improvement

The Brower girls use other sports to improve their tennis game.

Morgan ran middle school cross country last fall and will run track this spring.

Sidney, who prefers shorter distances, enjoys track and eagerly anticpates the annual Puppy Relays.

"I cannot wait for track," Sidney said. "I'm definitely a short distance runner."

Sidney added that the girls also participate in the Hershey track meet in the summer.

But tennis is their favorite.

The Browers play in the Missouri Valley section of the United States Tennis Association and travel to Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to play in tournaments.

Sidney is ranked 77th nationally in the 12-and-under (12-U) age group and has a 7-8 record since last May. Morgan is ranked 21st in the 14-and-under (14-U) rankings and has compiled a 30-11 record since last April.

Proud moments

Morgan and Sidney have created a plethora of memories thus far in their careers, but perhaps their proudest moments come when they improve on a previous performance.

"Let's say you play someone and you lose the first time and you lose pretty bad," Morgan said. "Then you go out and you practice and you work harder because you want to beat that person. Then the next time, maybe just a couple months later, you see them again in a tournament and then you beat them. That's what makes you feel great and you know you're improving."

One of Morgan's best memories came in a Super Tournament within the Missouri Valley section in Springfield, Mo., last summer.

She and friend Mckinleigh Lair were playing doubles against a rival team comprised of Marie Norris and Olivia Hauger. Brower and Lair took the match in a 15-13 super tiebreaker.

"It was one of the best doubles matches," Morgan said. "We won the whole tournament and it was just a great feeling after beating people that have beaten you before, you finally get to win at doubles again."

Sidney also enjoys coming out of a close match on top.

"It's nice when you get to be handed a trophy," she said. "You can look back and think about that, go back to the tournament and just think about it. You can say, 'That was a really tough match that I played there and it feels like it was a really great victory.'"

Double trouble

When it comes to doubles play, Morgan and Sidney have partnered up on several occasions.

"We've both had our own doubles partners before," Morgan said. "But at local tournaments and things where it's a good idea for us to play together, Sidney just plays up an age division and we play together."

Sidney currently plays in the 12-U division while Morgan plays in the 14-U division. When they team up for doubles play, they compete against girls in the 14-U division.

According to their father, Morgan and Sidney are undefeated as a doubles team.

"They have multiple tournament titles to their credit, including wins over players ranked in the top 100 in their age division and collegiate players," Josh Brower said.

Playing together as sisters, Morgan and Sidney like to identify themselves with tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams.

"When we were younger, the Williams sisters were like our idols," Morgan said. "We kind of always looked up to them and when we started playing doubles together, it was fun (to think of ourselves like them)."

Watching the pros

When it comes to professional sports, most kids can name their favorite team and a favorite player.

Morgan and Sidney Brower admire athletic icons too and the girls love watching them compete in the Grand Slam events.

"We always watch the Grand Slams," Morgan said. "It's so much fun to try and guess who's going to win and root for your favorite players. There's not that many Americans, but the ones that are out there like James Blake, Andy Roddick, the Williams sisters, you always go for them."

Sidney was quick to identify her favorite player: "I like Andy Roddick," she said.

Her sister Morgan prefers Venus Williams.

"I always thought of her as the older sister who has to keep up her reputation of beating the younger sister and it always goes back and forth," Morgan said. "I like her a lot. She's been on the pro tour for like 10 years. It takes a lot to stay on and play that much tennis."

"When we were in Germany, we actually got to see the Williams sisters and Morgan got to say 'hi' but we don't really remember meeting them at all," Sidney said. "But it's kind of cool to think that we can be like them."

Future plans

The Brower sisters haven't started high school yet, but they both know that tennis is in their future.

"To get to the pro level, kids are at training academies in Florida and California by like age eight," Morgan said.

The Williams sisters and Andy Roddick are examples of professional players who got their start in academies, training at IMG Academies in Florida.

Morgan knows that her training might not be enough to get her to the professional level, but every kid has the right to dream.

"I know that it's a wide possibility," she said. "But it's always something that people dream about, getting to be that good."

Both Morgan and Sidney want to play tennis in college.

"My main goal is just to try to go to a Division I college and play," Morgan said. "Because Division I is pretty close to pro tennis, I'd like to go to a school like that."

For an 11-year-old, Sidney is pretty sure of her future plans.

"I know exactly where I want to go to college," she said. "I want to go to college in Texas, but I'm not sure what school yet. And Morgan wants to go to Stanford."

Squaring off

When the Brower sisters practice, they compete against each other.

So who comes out on top?

"I usually beat Sidney," Morgan admitted, while her sister agreed. "I just know her strengths and weaknesses, it's more of a mind game when we play each other."

Morgan, who is right-handed, adds an extra advantage to her play by practicing with Sidney, who is a lefty.

"Sidney has an advantage with the lefty spin because most people play right-handed, so when someone goes out and plays a left-handed person, they're not used to it," Morgan said. "That's where I have the advantage because I get to play with a lefty all the time, so I'm used to it."

The girls use different spins - a lefty spin and a righty spin - depending on the situation.

"It depends on what side you're hitting with when you're serving," Sidney explained. "When I'm on the deuce side, that's where I would normally hit my lefty spin and I think it's on the add side for (Morgan) where she uses her righty spin."

So Morgan gets an extra advantage over her sister and her left-handed opponents, but what about when she plays her dad?

"I'm getting very close (to beating him)," Morgan laughed. "Every once in awhile I can get a set off him. Me and my dad are very competitive, usually we'll bet a pop or something."

That competitive edge is a useful tool, according to Morgan.

"When you lose a match, you can't really get mad," she said. "You just have to (see what you did wrong), so next time you can do better."

Tennis is for life

One of the appealing features of tennis, as opposed to other organized sports, is that tennis is a life-long sport.

"I want to play tennis my whole life," Morgan said. "It's something that you can be 80 and play and then you can start really young, so you can play your whole life."

Morgan hopes that her training and ability can inspire others in Northwest Iowa to try the sport.

"Nobody plays tennis around here," she said, noting that her closest tennis friends are in Fort Dodge. "Maybe this will encourage people to try out - go out for high school or start taking lessons. It's a lot of fun and it's something you can do for your whole life, it's not like basketball or volleyball."

The tournaments Morgan and Sidney play in create unique opportunities to make friends from distant places.

"I have quite a few guy friends and girl friends from Iowa that I've known since I started playing tennis," Morgan said. "At my first tournament, I met three people that I've gone through these four years of tennis with.

"It's always nice to get to travel and meet new people."

Morgan and Sidney will both attest to the amount of hard work and dedication required to get to their level play.

"Tennis takes awhile to learn," Morgan said. "But once you start improving and working on it, it can be really fun."



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