KIRKLAND — When they started playing tennis at Lake Washington High School as sophomores, twin sisters Jillian and Shannon Adams avoided playing as a doubles team, believing it was better to carve out their own teenage identities.
"We didn't want to do the whole twin thing: they play together, they live together, they do everything together," Jillian recalled. "We wanted to work with other people, so it wasn't like Shannon and Jillian all the time."
But that changed last year, when they confirmed something they'd suspected all along: they really liked each other.
And a doubles team was born.
The Adams sisters reached the state tournament as juniors. This year, the 17-year-old seniors are among the favorites to win the KingCo 4A Conference doubles crown and return to state. They hope to better their 1-2 record at last year's tournament.
"We decided it's better to embrace [being a twin], than try to shove it away," said Shannon, the elder by a minute.
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Born and raised in Kirkland, the sisters took up tennis in the sixth grade because it was something fun to do with the family. Both parents played tennis in high school — dad Terry at Sedro-Woolley and mom Kellie at Lake Washington.
The girls had always played sports, but tennis appealed to them — the constant movement, being quick on their feet, the athleticism.
There was another reason.
"It was something we could do on our own. We didn't need a bunch of other people," Jillian said.
"We could just go out with the other twin and hit around. We had a built-in partner," Shannon said.
The sisters pushed each other, got a coach in junior high and were soon winning local tournaments, often competing against each other in the finals or semifinals.
Lake Washington coach Joe Waters, also a biology teacher, says the sisters' greatest strength is their athleticism and consistency.
"They wear down their opponents," he said. "Physically, they can get to balls and outhustle their opponents. Mentally, they're very solid. And together that's a very good combination in tennis."
Jillian is also the Kangs' No. 1 singles player, and Shannon No. 2.
They share big smiles, easy laughs and a fondness for telling jokes. They have the natural timing of twins, one interjecting comments while the other talks. Jillian is a little taller and stronger, and Shannon a little more easy-going.
Playing doubles became an extension of their personalities. They feel connected on the court, completely at ease in talking and giving advice and congratulations.
"The sister thing works to their advantage," Waters says. "Doubles is knowing your partner and knowing what they're going to do. They have this inner thing that happens, this inner communication. They can read each other real well."
Waters at first thought they might not make the best doubles team because they didn't have different styles. Waters often tries to find two players whose contrasting strengths suit each other.
"But they talked me into playing," Waters said. "And they were right."
Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or firstname.lastname@example.org