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Lakewood Ranch tennis players win USTA doubles national title

Lauren Navas and Lauren Larkin both began playing tennis five years ago and have conquered the sport together.

Country Club's Lauren Larkin and Lauren Navas won a USTA 40+ doubles tennis national title in San Diego.
Country Club's Lauren Larkin and Lauren Navas won a USTA 40+ doubles tennis national title in San Diego.
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At first blush, the two Laurens — Country Club's Lauren Navas and Lauren Larkin — seem an unlikely pair. 

In some ways it is.

But it's also a pairing that resulted in a national tennis title. 

Navas, who bubbles with energy, started playing tennis five years ago after discovering that her Country Club gym membership came with a free tennis trial. Navas, 45, had never played tennis during her childhood. The closest she came to playing a sport was "artistic rollerskating."

There was something about tennis that convinced her to change that, in part the sport's community. She had a handful of friends who played. Getting to spend a few hours on the court with them was a blast, Navas said, even though it was not like her usual hobbies. 

In October 2021, Navas got a message from one such friend. It was the other Lauren — Lauren Larkin — who wanted to know if Navas was interested in being her partner for a USTA sectional qualifying tournament in Tampa. 

"If Lauren Larkin tells you to do something, you do it," Navas said. 

The 42-year-old Larkin, unlike Navas, was a multi-sport athlete in her youth, playing any sport she had time to try. That included volleyball, track and field and golf. Tennis, however, was new for her. She also started five years ago, starting in Ohio before moving to Lakewood Ranch in 2019.

She continued her tennis journey here, but unlike Navas, who was content playing for fun and friendship at first, Larkin's competitive drive from her athletic past came roaring back. She wanted more. She wanted to be the best. When she saw an opportunity to play in the Tampa qualifier, she took it, and she knew the perfect person to play by her side. 

"She (Navas) is the perfect complement to my net game," Larkin said. "She's talented from the back court. She can keep the ball deep on the opponents, which forces them to sometimes pop up a shorter ball that I can put away. When you play doubles, it's a lot more strategic play than in singles. Your points are won from the serving line forward, and she's the perfect partner for that." 

From their first practice as a pair, Navas and Larkin called each other "national champions" in the hopes of manifesting that title into reality. They did. The pair won the USTA National 40+ NTRP Doubles Championships, held April 1-10 in San Diego.

The pair won all six of its matches at the national event. Only once was defeat a real possibility, in the semifinals against Carrielu Dickerson and Carrie Clark of California. Navas and Larkin had lost the first set 4-2 and were down 3-0 in the second, one game from going home. It was then the pair looked at each other and reassured themselves they would pull out the match. 

"We had come so far to get there," Larkin said. "We were not going to go home without winning."

They were true to their word, coming back to win the match 2-4, 4-3, 4-1. Then they beat Rita Williams and Barbara Ignatius of California in straight sets in the final match.

The national title is something made all the more remarkable by the short time they had to practice. The pair had from October to April to get comfortable as playing partners. Navas said the duo practiced as much as they could but not as much as they would have liked. As mothers with jobs, Navas and Larkin only had so much free time each week. The pair's inexperience showed at the Tampa qualifier, where the team lost in the finals. It was good enough to advance to the sectional tournament, but it left Navas and Larkin disappointed. They made up for it at sectionals in January, winning the tournament.

Lauren Larkin and Lauren Navas show off the custom towels and cupcakes that the Lakewood Ranch community made for them in support of their doubles title quest. Courtesy photo.
Lauren Larkin and Lauren Navas show off the custom towels and cupcakes that the Lakewood Ranch community made for them in support of their doubles title quest. Courtesy photo.

On the court, the rollicking Navas repeats a quiet meditation to herself.

"I am a national champion," she said. "I love my body, and I love myself. I'm a warrior and strong and I can fight. I can angle, I can lob and I can always win another point."

Meanwhile, the soft-spoken Larkin becomes, as Navas said, "a net monster," always slamming home points as hard as she can and even beating her chest when the pair picks up a key point. 

"I'm running around in this mom bod and she's (Larkin) over here looking like an Olympic athlete," Navas said. 

Now that the duo's national title journey is complete, the future holds no concrete plans. Both Navas and Larkin said they will continue to play tennis and hope to keep improving their skills, but there is no immediate goal of another doubles title. No matter where the pairs goes from here, they'll have trophies to remind each other of what they accomplished together. 

"I'm proud of us," Navas said. "It's a testament to our hard work and our partnership. And the club has been so supportive. One of our friends (Megan McAloon) came out to San Diego to support us and the rest were all following along from here. They had a fan club text group. People helped order our outfits and made us custom towels. There was so much support, and that was cool to see." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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