Ana Cornea (left) and Sonam Yangchen will wrap up their tennis careers when they graduate from Lewis-Clark State this spring. But they both plan to continue their education -- Cornea at Nebraska and Yangchen somewhere in Asia.
By now, there are a handful of traditions attached to the Lewis-Clark State tennis team. For one, the Warriors have spent the last decade dominating the NAIA scene in the Northwest -- a legacy they hope to extend this weekend.
And, as is custom, their roster includes players from every corner of the globe. In the multinational mix are Sonam Yangchen and Ana Cornea, the club's only four-year seniors.
There are some obvious differences between these two. Yangchen is from Bhutan, a somewhat obscure nation perched in the Himalayas and sandwiched between India and China. She loves to charge the net. She studies business.
Meanwhile, Cornea is a Kennewick product who plays from the baseline and majors in biology.
But like a number of their predecessors in this program, these 22-year-olds both excel academically. Cornea has already been accepted at the University of Nebraska, where she'll probably study microbiology. Yangchen, who turned down an offer to be an LCSC assistant coach next year, plans on getting an MBA, possibly at a school in Bangkok, Thailand.
First, these two have their tennis careers to complete. The Warrior women, ranked 18th in the NAIA, are in search of their 10th consecutive Region I championship. They will play host to the four-team regional tournament Friday and Saturday at Clarkston High's courts.
The 21st-ranked LCSC men are gunning for an eighth straight regional title. They'll face Alberta in a best-of-three series Saturday and Sunday, also at Clarkston.
Both teams would be assured of spots in the national tournament if they win these tournaments.
Although Cornea and Yangchen are solid students, they're also dedicated to their sport.
"I've never separated the two," Cornea said. "I've just been like, 'Do well in tennis; do well in school.' It's just one keeping up with the other."
When Cornea was younger she dabbled in numerous sports -- including her early favorite, gymnastics. But by the time she started attending Kamiakin High, her focus had shifted to tennis.
Cornea was introduced to LCSC by Angus Bampton, a former Warrior who belonged to the same tennis club she did in the Tri-Cities. Cornea took a liking to coach Kai Fong, and picked L-C over Portland State.
She arrived at her field of study more directly. At an early age, she decided she wanted to be a forensic pathologist.
"But for some reason it dawned on me one day in ninth grade that it involves dead people," Cornea said. "I think I was watching some show and saw that and said, 'I want to talk to people.' "
She now plans to enter the research field, "or just become a heart surgeon."
Meanwhile, Cornea has become a consistent cog in the Warriors' singles lineup.
"Ana has developed into a very reliable player for the team," Fong said. "I know I can count on her."
Yangchen has made her mark as a doubles player. She and partner Maria Resende of Brazil have an 11-5 record and are ranked 17th in the NAIA.
She is also thought to be the first woman from Bhutan to earn a sports scholarship in the United States.
Like Fong's other overseas recruits, he was introduced to Yangchen by one of his contacts. Suresh Menon, the International Tennis Federation's Asian representative, was the one who discovered her.
After Fong traded a few e-mails with her coach, Yangchen was on her way to LCSC.
"I had no idea," she said. "I got my ticket and said, 'OK, I'm going to Lewiston, Idaho.' "
Fong said that Yangchen didn't show much of her personality at first.
"Her culture downplays the freedom of expression," he said, "so for a long time, we had little idea of what Sonam was thinking at the moment."
But four years later, she has adapted beautifully. Yangchen speaks English with ease, and cracks jokes frequently.
She also likes to cook, and will occasionally whip up exotically hot meals for her teammates.
"It's not called anything," Yangchen said of her dishes. "Imagination -- I just put together a little bit of that, a little bit of this. It turns out good sometimes, but sometimes it turns out bad."
Although she enjoyed her time at Lewiston, Yangchen plans on returning to her home country someday.
"I want to be around my family," she said. "Life is not certain; you've got to be with your loved ones."
NOTES -- The women's regional tournament will start Friday at 3 p.m., with Southern Oregon playing LCSC and Albertson taking on Alberta. (Those matches will be held simultaneously) On Saturday, Albertson meets L-C and SOU battles Alberta at 9 a.m. Then at 3 p.m., L-C takes on Alberta and SOU plays Albertson. ... The men's series between Alberta and LCSC starts with a 1 p.m. match on Saturday. The second meeting will be at 9 a.m. Sunday, with the if-needed showdown later in the day. ... If the weather is bad, both tournaments will be moved from Clarkston to LCSC's Tennis Center.