Baluck Deang first picked up a tennis racket when she was 5 years old. She has found a comfort zone on the court ever since.
Sure, there’s an opponent across the net. But Deang — now a sophomore for the Madison Edgewood girls tennis team — enjoys the individual nature of playing singles and depending on only one person.
“You can’t blame anybody but yourself,” said Deang, the team’s No. 1 singles player. “You are in your own little world. When you’re playing tennis, it is only yourself and the racket.”
The 6-foot Deang has developed into one of the area’s top players and most powerful hitters after playing tennis, basketball, soccer and golf growing up in an athletic family.
Deang’s parents, Willma Joshua and Joseph Deang, came to the United States from war-torn Sudan in 1997 — a place Baluck Deang one day wants to visit. Her parents encouraged the children to compete in sports to remain active and to stay out of trouble, said Baluck Deang, who was born in Madison and is the sixth of seven children.
Deang (18-5) enters with the No. 5 seeding in the WIAA Division 2 state individual girls tennis tournament at Nielsen Tennis Stadium. She opens play at 5 p.m. today against Baldwin-Woodville senior Shealene Wolgast (13-11). The left-handed Deang reached the final eight last season, and believes that experience will make her more comfortable this time.
“It would be nice to win state, but I can’t have a big head and say, ‘Well, I’m going to win state,’” she said. “My goal is to make the final four. From there, we will see what happens.”
Second-year Crusaders coach Alex Mory said he believes Deang’s goals are realistic.
“If she can play as well as she has and as well as I’ve seen her play, I think she can beat anyone on any given day,” Mory said. “So, it’s all about making sure her feet keep moving and that she keeps a positive attitude, which she is very good at, and knowing that she can do it.
“Win or lose, as long as Baluck knows she played well, that’s all I want. So, if she makes the final four, it’s great. If she gets to the finals, great. But just knowing she gave 100 percent, that’s my personal goal for her.”
Mory said Deang’s play has improved this season due to improved footwork. That was particularly evident during the recent Badger Conference tournament championship match. When Deang began to move her feet better in the second set, she played less defensively and rallied from a one-set deficit to defeat DeForest junior Cecile Fuchs and repeat as champion.
Deang’s relaxed spirit also aids her game, said Mory, who is set to take over for Lori Lukens as Edgewood boys tennis coach in the spring.
“She’s really chill,” he said. “She has a relaxed mindset. She is easy to coach and has a fun personality. She has a very cool head.”
Deang said she tries to maintain an upbeat attitude during matches, exhorting herself to do better and thinking about how hard her mother has worked to “put me in tennis. It’s not cheap.”
Deang seeks out inspiration.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘If you can look up, you can get up,’ “ said Deang, bothered by a hamstring injury earlier this season.
In fifth grade, tennis emerged as the favorite sport for Deang, who said she’s taken lessons from Tom Chorney at Cherokee Country Club.
She has continued to play basketball, following her brothers Deang Deang — a former Madison East standout who’s now at Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois, and is receiving NCAA Division I interest — and Mandela Deang, who played at Edgewood and is a freshman on the basketball team at Williston State College in North Dakota.
Playing tennis in college is one of Baluck Deang’s goals, as is becoming a lawyer.
“She definitely has the ability to do it,” Mory said. “It takes a lot of hard work. With Baluck’s personality and mindset, I think it’s definitely achievable.”
Deang, singles player Julia Hess and the doubles teams of Kinsey Kessel/Lizzie Drake and Kelly Smith/Sarah Dunn will represent Edgewood this week. Then, the Crusaders meet top-seeded University School of Milwaukee in a Division 2 semifinal at team state Oct. 20.
“It’s my first year going to team state,” Deang said. “I am excited to see how it goes.”