LUMBERTON — In any sport, there are both standout athletes and athletes that simply stand out.
In the case of siblings Dominic and Elena Dent, they tend to be both.
The two are among the top-ranked racquetball players in their age groups. Elena, 12, is the top-ranked 12U girls player in the state and 14-year-old Dominic is ranked fourth in the 14U boys division.
They’ll not only take part in singles matches but teaming up to take on adult men’s teams from around the state in doubles matches.
It’s a game passed down from their mother, Amy Dent, who learned about the sport while she was in college.
When she home-schooled her children during junior high, they did their physical education at the Southeastern Health Lifestyle Fitness Center in Lumberton.
“That’s where we really started playing a lot more and it took off,” Amy said.
Dominic said there was never any intention to get involved with competitive play.
“It was just P.E. time,” he said.
As they got better at the sport, Dominic started playing pickup games at the fitness center. By chance, he played a pickup match with a few professional players that visited Lumberton and learned about the competitive tournaments. His first was in Goldsboro just under a year ago and his sister soon joined him.
The primary difference between a simple day of pickup games and a tournament are largely in the presentation, Dominic said. Competitive matches utilize referees to keep score and draw between 50 and 60 people.
An admittedly niche sport, Dominic and Elena are often among a handful of juniors at any given tournament.
In Elena’s first tournament, she had to play women that were at least 20 years older than her.
“She was really intimidated, but she spanked them,” Amy said.
Despite the differences between tournament and pickup games, the goal remains the same: Placing shots and controlling court position.
“You have to hit it low,” Elena said.
So far the family has stayed in-state for tournaments, but they are eying other nearby tournaments, including one in Virginia.
Through the sport, the Dents have gotten to know other families within the sport and enjoyed the camaraderie amongst players. Even as Dominic and Elena rub elbows with the top players in the state, they end up getting advice to continue to improving their play.
“It’s a really nice family atmosphere,” Amy said. “They really do take these kids under their wings and cheer them on and give them tips as they watch them play.”