Q&A: Punahou tennis champ Katreina Corpuz

Punahou's Katreina Corpuz modeled her game after the Williams sisters and is headed to Navy for college. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

Katreina Corpuz has dedicated her life to tennis, but she’s willing to forego a professional career.

The defending HHSAA girls state champion loves watching Kill Bill movies with her dad, Reinaldo, but doesn’t consider herself martial arts material.

As a junior, Corpuz helped Punahou capture the team championship in 2017, the program’s 15th in a row. The ILH finals approach on Wednesday, with the state tourney around the corner. Corpuz has never been a No. 1 seed, but that’s likely to change this time.

Her attacking, aggressive style was a forgone conclusion for dad, her first tennis coach.

“We modeled her game after the Williams sisters. If you’re going to play the professional game, you’re not as big as the European players. That was my plan with her technique,” he said.

Corpuz has always related her approach to Serena Williams.

“The first time I saw her play, I was about 4,” she recalled, “I was watching on TV with my dad. I don’t remember much of the game, but I remember she lifted the plate up over her head and she smiled and was so happy. She was always the most fierce and she had the most personal presence on the tennis court.”

There’s a ferocity in the way Corpuz has diligently worked at her craft since those early years. Yet, she’s willing to let go of the sport she has spent most of her life pursuing, at least after college.

“At first, I wanted her to go to a traditional four-year college because I was thinking about a professional career,” Reinaldo Corpuz said. “The Naval Academy, I knew there would be a five-year commitment after college. She said she wanted to do something as a pilot or see what she wanted to get into. She knew she didn’t want to play professional tennis after college. Naval Academy would provide her with more options after college.”

Punahou coach Betsy (Sommerville) Purpura was a three-time champion.

“It’s great to coach a player with such high caliber like Katreina. She is supportive of her teammates. She is a great sportsman coupled with the tenacity to succeed. That’s evident in her and her teammates,” Purpura said.

The independent spirit of the champion is what her parents, Ellen and Reinaldo, instilled in her from the start.

“It creates some conflict sometimes. We need to remind her we’re still here as parents. We’re not going to let go until she’s on the plane,” Reinaldo said. “She wishes she could call everything, all the shots, so it’s a happy medium.”

Dad has been guide and taskmaster on the tennis court.

“When she did the visit (to the Naval Academy), she said, ‘They actually yell at the midshipmen and a lot of them cry. I think I’m going to be OK because you’ve yelled at me.’ I think it won’t faze her. Tennis is supposed to be a gentleman’s game, but you have to have passion. I try not to yell, but I make my words strong,” he said.

Katreina is a cousin of Allisen Corpuz, a golfer who has won three world junior championships and currently plays at USC.

“When Allisen was eight and Katreina was 6, Allisen said, ‘I want to be the No. 1 golfer in the world.’ Katreina said, ‘I’m going to be the No. 1 tennis player in the world.’ The excellence stuck in her mind. Allisen is an inspiration.”

Katreina is pronounced like the hurricane: ka-TREE-nah. Corpuz chatted with Hawaii Prep World for this week’s prep feature in the print edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which you can read here.

Katreina Corpuz
Punahou tennis
Senior

Are you ready to pick up and head to college?
> I’m too excited for what my future has. I’m really happy to be here right now.

Athlete: Serena Williams
> The first time I saw her play, I was about 4. I was watching on TV with my dad. I don’t remember much of the game, but I remember she lifted the plate up over her head and she smile and was so happy. She was always the most fierce and she had the most personal presence on the tennis court. She wasn’t just a person. She had a lot of personality.

Home food: Grandma’s spaghetti.
> My grandma (Modesta Corpuz), everyone calls her Mama. The way she makes it, she puts a lot of sugar or banana ketchup in it, so the sauce is really sweet, that’s why I like it.

So you can make this?
> I’ve never tried. I could if I had everything.

Eating food out: Steak
> Coach Tuan Nguyen’s world-class steak. I like eating steak a lot, but I want to give a shout-out to my coach. He lives in the Philippines, but he has a house here and in California. Every December, he and his family come here. Every summer, I train with him him in California. When he makes the steak, it’s the best in the world every time.

Hobby: Sleeping
> I don’t get enough, but then again, no amount of sleep in the world could be enough for me. It’s honestly a privilege.

Movie: Kill Bill series
> The storyline and the adrenaline of it all, I kind of grew up watching that with my dad and I’ve always watched violent movies with him. It’s a combination of everything.

It’s kind of bonding time with dad?
> Mm-hmm. My mom doesn’t like it when we watch violent movies.

Is there a correlation between tennis and those kinds of movies?
> I don’t see much of a correlation other than just having an opponent and the suspense if you’re watching two people fight.

How about Serena Williams as a actress, fighting in the next Kill Bill?
> I think that would be pretty funny. I’m not sure how she could do, but that would be very interesting.

I can see you putting your physical ability into martial arts if you ever wanted to try it. Very agile, explosive, sometimes vicious.
> I’m going in the Naval Academy, so I’ll learn combat techniques.

TV show: Friends or GOT.
> I just started Game of Thrones, so probably Friends.

Some people are watching Friends on Netflix.
> Lately, I’ve been bingeing Game of Thrones. I’ve definitely seen episodes of every season of Friends, but not in order.

Who’s your favorite character?
> Joey. Wait, can I change to Chandler? I identify the most with him.

Music artist: The Weeknd
> It’s this one guy who’s a singer/songwriter. He’s very modern. It’s not something that my parents would listen to. I don’t have a favorite song by him, I just enjoy all of them. A couple of his latest albums, it’s chill out music. I put it on and go to sleep.

Teacher: I have been blessed with having exemplary teachers from K-12 at Punahou School. Each and every one of them had a tremendous impact on me.

GPA: 3.6
I always ask this. Would you be a better or worse student without sports?
> I’d be a much better student. It would add much more time and energy to do everything else. All the adults say academics comes first, for a student-athlete, it’s always your passion, and that’s your sport. I’m not trying to speak for all student-athletes, but that’s how it is for me.

Place to relax: Up on a cliff with a view of the sunrise/set and ocean.
> I just like those hikes anywhere you can see off a cliff. My favorite place because it’s not hard to get to is the cliff right above Cockroach Cove on the East side. Cockroach Cove is right next to Sandy’s. It’s really pretty.

Motto: Chase perfection and catch excellence. —Vince Lombardi

Mom (Ellen’s) most memorable saying: Always prays for me before big events.

Dad (Reinaldo’s) most memorable saying: Remember who you are.
> It’s not something that he always says. He just said it one time, and it was really important. I thought it was really important. I think it’s definitely tennis-related, during a pep talk. I have to remember who I am because I’ve trained this hard, I’ve come up since a young age. I am who I am and he’s always been my coach. It’s his way of saying, I already know you can do it.

> It’s also a pride thing because I was super nervous when I’d play up (against older players), and he’d say remember who you are and play your game.

Coaches saying: You know what to do, just do it

Sport affecting daily life:
> There is no offseason, so my schedule is marginally the same year-round. I have a very compelling love-hate relationship with the game, and the compromise is my acceptance to the fact that I will irrefutably spend a minimum of one hour on the court every day; it’s just something I have been doing and will always do. Balancing my social life and Punahou exigencies with tennis have always been difficult, since I dedicate my attention as much as my time to the sport — however, I’m extremely grateful for the extensive field of opportunities that I have been exposed to.

Middle and elementary schools: I have been attending Punahou School since kindergarten year.

Youth/Club teams and commitments:
> I played a lot of JTT (Junior Team Tennis) since I was five years old, and stopped at around age 13. JTT occupied almost all of my weekends. I don’t play club tennis. JTT a developmental program, and when you’re older, it’s more social.

> You have to have a certain ranking in Hawaii to play team nationals (top six), and if it’s individual qualifiers, it’s top two (for Hawaii).

Travel destinations for tennis:
> Tennis has taken me all over the continental US: all over Southern California, to Las Vegas (Nev.), Tucson (Ariz.), Salt Lake City (Utah), Colorado Springs (Colo.), to Houston (Texas), then Mobile (Ala.), Orlando (Fla.), Peachtree (Ga.), Virginia Beach (Virg.), and New Haven (Conn.). I’ve also been fortunate enough to train at some of the best facilities in the Philippines.

Do you get to enjoy these places as a kid on the road?
> Oh yeah, definitely. My parents always made sure we stayed a couple extra days and sightsee.

Top 3 sightseeing places
1. Las Vegas.
2. New Haven because I got to see Yale University. I got to see a lot of celebrity tennis players. I sat next to Agnes Radwanska. She was No. 2 in 2012.
3. The Philippines. I spent two months there in Alabang. All the houses have maids and drivers.

Do you see your folks staying here or retiring in the P.I.?
> I think it could go either way.

Something that would surprise most people:
> I’m an avid fan of visual art. I could easily spend an entire day in an art museum, which I’ve done in Boston and San Diego. Among the paintings, my favorites clash between impressionism, expressionism and hyperrealism.

Can you draw?
> I cannot draw to save my life, but I appreciate art.

What’s your bucket list like?
> To fulfill my ultimate dream/bucket list would mean traveling the entire world and meeting and experiencing as many different people, places and things.

> Europe. I want to backpack everywhere there. Everywhere is a train ride away. If you’re under 21, I think it’s free. That’s what a lot of college kids do.

What is the background of your name?
> Originally, my mom wanted to name me Sistine after the Sistine Chapel, but my dad didn’t like that so they named me Katreina — the extra ‘e’ before ‘i’ is because my dad’s name is Rei.

> I really like it because you’re not going to find a name like it. It’s a really unique spelling, and unique to my dad.

> I have a younger sister and my parents wanted to name her Eleina, but I threw a tantrum, and I wanted her name to be Katelyn. It’s sounds so better with Katreina. I was 4.

TENNIS
You won the ILH last year. Then the state title.
> At states, I feel like it was really weird because I didn’t feel ready at all. I think I was nervous and I was just overthinking a lot of things, which is really bad, actually. I wanted it a lot. My level of urgency to win was higher than my level of preparedness to win the tournament. I could tell the matches weren’t my best, but at the end of the day, I played well enough to win. It’s definitely going to be better this year.

How important is the team title for the Buffanblu, especially with 15 consecutive coming into this year?
> The team thing is really huge for us Punahou girls. We have this streak that we always have to uphold. It’s what brings us closer as a team. It’s not an expectation, but it’s a collective goal even though tennis isn’t exactly a team sport, all the girls are pushing toward a triple crown. You can’t have it without winning the team title.

What’s it like playing for Coach Betsy (Sommerville) Purpura, a three-time state champ?
> The first time I met her was in my sophomore year. There’s always things that she adds that are really helpful, definitely tactics.

Your dad is such a big influence on your game. What was he like as a player?
> I feel like he was a really good player. All I know is he played league and he hit really hard. He had a really good forehand. He definitely teaches everything. I think he’s a better coach than player, because after he taught me, he read a lot of tennis books and material, a lot of research on the game, so he’s a technician. It’s more tactics. The fundamentals are what you get taught until 10, then it’s tactics, strategies and mindset, pep-talking.

BEST TOOLS
> My favorite part of my game is my attacking game. It’s really helpful that I’m never too far behind the baseline. I like to dictate points rather than just wait for my opponent’s return. The way that my dad taught me, the way my strokes are it’s a lot better for me to dictate. People with loopier strokes can wait around, but I have a flatter strokes, so it’s in my best interest to keep things short. And physically through the years, I’ve found it easier to just win the point before anyone can take it from me. Long rallies are boring.

IN THE NAVY
Why the US Naval Academy?
> I’m looking forward to becoming the best person I can be. I know that in order to be at a service academy, all my peers will be high quality people who embody integrity, discipline and high moral standards.

It’s a tough gig. Waking up at 5 in the morning.
> I’ll be surrounded by people that want to work for what they want. I want to be with people that I aspire to be like. I visited there twice, but they like to have fun and they’re a different caliber of people.

Do you know what you might want to major in?
> I’m not sure yet.

Any shout-outs?
> My Punahou coaches Ikaika Jobe, Betsy (Sommerville) Purpura, Jason Oliver, Roberta Russo, Garett Tanouye and Fumiya Nakano for pushing my limits higher and higher throughout the years.

> Tuan Nguyen for technical fundamentals of my game (and world class steak)

> My parents for a golden upbringing and unconditional support in every step of my journey

> I’d also like to give a shoutout to my younger sibling, Katelyn. She has more fierceness and firepower than anyone could fathom, and is a very capable sparring opponent both on court and as a person.

COMMENTS

  1. Reinaldo Corpuz April 19, 2018 12:26 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Paul Honda for writing this amazing story. You did a wonderful job in capturing Katreina, the person. One of her fears she once shared to me is being known only as a tennis player. Her life was consumed by the rigors of being the best player she could possibly be. This article features her as a well rounded individual with a lot of interests outside of tennis. Ellen and I have been so blessed with having such a wonderful daughter and we love her with all our hearts and will continue to sacrifice anything within our means to support her in her pursuits and dreams. Thank you again, Paul. I also hope this story inspires other young athletes who want to excel in their chosen sport and academics. This is not the end of her story but just the beginning as she enters into the adult world. Mahalo and thank you so much, Paul.
    Sincerely,
    Reinaldo Corpuz (Katreina’s Dad)


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