Peters Township's tennis star weighing future options

| Sunday, May 25, 2008

Junior tennis star Alison Riske of McMurray is not a typical 17-year-old.

She doesn't attend school in the traditional sense, she regularly mixes it up with professional athletes, and she even visited Russia last month.

Such is the life of one of the highest-ranked junior tennis players in the country.

Yet, at the moment, Riske is in the process of making a decision that is common among kids her age: Should she attend college or enter "the real world"?

Granted, her real world would consist of becoming a pro tennis player, but the decision is still one she is thinking over seriously.

"You have two roads," she said. "I haven't made up my mind which one I'm going to take, but it's unbelievable to have the choice."

Riske got a first-hand look at what the pro life would be like last month. She was invited to go to Moscow with the U.S. Fed Cup team, which lost to Russia, 3-2, in the semifinals of the international competition. Despite the loss, she called the experience "once in a lifetime."

She and fellow junior standout CoCo Vandeweghe served as hitting partners for the U.S. team.

"I learned a lot from the experience," said Riske, who practiced on a red-clay court for the first time. "It was my first trip overseas, and It was cool to go to Russia. I loved everything about it."

Riske, who won PIAA and WPIAL titles in 2006 with Peters Township, participated in another memorable event when she competed in last year's U.S. Open qualifiers. She met some of the game's all-time greats, with her personal highlight being meeting Billie Jean King.

Still, thinking about what she has had to give up to pursue a pro career can make her pause.

"Every day there's a sacrifice," she said. "Whether you can't go see your friends because you're at practice, or you can't eat that cookie because you're in training."

Should Riske decide to hold off on a pro career for a few more years and attend college, she will be in high demand.

The Tennis Recruiting Network ranks her No. 2 in the country and No. 1 in the Mid-Atlantic region.

As for what she'd like to study, Riske, who attends Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, is a bit more ambiguous. She said she likes biology, chemistry, Spanish and writing.

Riske pointed to Vanderbilt, the school her sister attends and plays tennis for, as a college that would interest her. She has talked to other schools but won't have any scholarship offers until she begins her official visits in Spetember.

But whether Riske goes pro or gives it the old college try, tennis will dominate a good deal of her life.

"For me, this is what I consider normal," she said. "I couldn't see it any other way."

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