Tan will have two titles to defend at next month's 3A girls state tennis championship next month: MI's team championship and her own singles crown.

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MERCER ISLAND — Nora Tan keeps her priorities in order.

Academics over athletics.

Team goals over individual success.

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One won’t suffer because of the other. But for Tan, there’s very little trade-off. She scores A’s in the classroom, and aces on the tennis court. And her individual victories over the past three seasons have helped Mercer Island High School add to its cache of state team championships.

The Islanders will be gunning for their fifth straight 3A girls tennis crown next month and 31st girls title overall. For Tan, a senior, that goal supersedes the quest to repeat as singles champion, which would make her the third two-time singles winner in school history.

“In high-school tennis, it’s definitely all about the team,” she said. “Our goal is always the state title. We’re definitely looking for that team title, and I also would like to defend my title from last year.”

Her 2-0 victory over Barbra Ann Carey from Seattle Prep last year helped the Islanders keep their string alive and edge second-place Hanford, 19 points to 16. Tan placed second at state in doubles as a sophomore.

And as a freshman, Tan took fifth in singles — a considerable accomplishment considering she was just 13 at the time. Tan, who turned 16 in September, skipped third grade because she was ahead of her peers at a young age.

Coach Mindy Blakeslee admits she was slightly concerned when Tan joined the varsity at such a young age.

“She wasn’t much older than my own daughters, and I knew how little they still were,” she said. “It was interesting to have a 13-year-old and 18-year-olds. But she always handled herself beautifully. It didn’t seem to faze her, and she’s really grown in the four years that I’ve coached her, just as an all-around person. She’s just a great kid, and she really cares about high-school tennis.”

That showed in her willingness as a sophomore to play doubles, an experience Tan says she doesn’t regret. And her passion is also clear when she talks about last year’s state tournament and how much she cherished the team championship.

“Winning the individual state title was just the cherry on top,” she said.

Tan started playing tennis early in grade school, then began taking it seriously around age 10, working out at the USTA regional training center. At 12, she climbed to No. 45 in the nation in her age group.

But she cut back on the training and travel once she reached high school to focus on academics. She carries a 3.993 grade-point average and has narrowed her college options to MIT (where she has a spot on the tennis team) and Stanford (where she would hope to walk on for tennis).

Tan, who also plays saxophone in MI’s marching band and wind ensemble, has the ability to adapt her style of play to her opponent. She can be the aggressor, or the counter-puncher. And she has a rare one-handed backhand.

But that’s just one small part of what makes Nora Tan unique.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com

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