UD alums Jackie, Jade Kawamoto finding winning formula on national pickleball circuit

Pictured are Jackie and Jade Kawamoto. Photo courtesy of Jade’s Carvana PPA Tour page.

James Tong | Contributing Writer

Many people only dream about playing a sport professionally. Very few actually get the chance to do so. Among those who play any sport at all, even fewer get the chance to play with their sibling(s). Even fewer of those get the chance to play with their identical twin. 

That isn’t the case for pickleball stars Jackie and Jade Kawamoto.

The Kawamoto twins grew up playing tennis in Indiana and were the school’s top two singles players at Greenwood High School. Jackie was the singles state champion in 2013 as a junior. The following season, she gave up her spot as the No. 1 singles player for the school to Jade, giving her the opportunity to play the top spot during the 2014 season.

The twins took their tennis talent to the University of Dayton where they attended from 2015-18 and spent their time playing both singles and doubles as per the format of Division I tennis. Their senior season saw the two play doubles together, and in 22 matches posted a 17-2-3 record.

“I had a great time as a student-athlete at UD,” both said in separate email interviews with this reporter. They both highlighted teammates and friends that they made who they are still close with.

The two began playing pickleball a year after graduating in 2019. Neither one had played much tennis since graduation, but when their dad and brother began playing pickleball and introduced them to the game, they fell in love with it and took off. Jackie in particular mentioned that she and Jade were able to pick up the sport rather quickly because of their tennis experience and athleticism.

“Like most players that transition from tennis to pickleball, I started out hitting a lot of ground strokes from the back of the court, which only gets you so far in pickleball,” Jade said. “As I began to play more, I learned to get more comfortable moving up to the kitchen line and learning the ‘slow-game’ of dinking.”

Jackie said “the general strokes are similar, hand-eye coordination helped from tennis and the athleticism” made the transition easier for her to pick up the sport. “The bounces are very different and you have to learn that the game can’t be won at the baseline,” she admitted.

The twins play on the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour as well as in Major League Pickleball (MLP). The two organizations differ in their format of play and scoring most notably. The PPA Tour has singles and doubles and is a tournament style bracket, where players compete as a doubles team or an individual to win. Scoring here is the common format of scoring, where only the serving team can score points. In the MLP, there are teams that compete against one another and the scoring is called rally scoring, where either side can score points.

The twins also play on the D.C. Pickleball Team in the MLP. There, along with Christian Alshon and Riley Newman, they won the franchise’s first championship in 2023. Jade and Jackie say that was one their most memorable experience in pickleball they’ve had yet.

Last week, the two organizations merged, according to media reports. Jackie said she hopes the merger will increase viewership and gain more attention from potential sponsors of the tours.

“I think that will be better for getting a broadcast deal in the future, getting sponsorship deals in the future,” she said. “I see it being a great thing for the sport and hopefully it keeps on growing.”

Jade also addressed the viewership numbers, saying thinks that they are still too low.

“Even though pickleball has grown so much recreationally, I believe the sport still has a long way to go with viewership,” she said. “The amount of viewers is growing, but I still think there is a lot of work to do in order to market the professional game better and get the word out there.”

While it’s true that the sport is newer on the professional level, its influence has spread through various ways because of the media. From seeing it in television advertisements, to social media, pickleball continues to grow and has been dubbed by many as “the fastest growing sport in America.” 

When asked how social media has influenced the sport of pickleball, the twins agreed that it has helped the growth of the sport. Jade, in addressing the amateur/recreational level, said, “I believe [pickleball] will continue to grow exponentially and there will be more and more courts being built around the country.”
The twins were scheduled to play next in the PPA Tour in Austin, Texas, March 13-15. To watch the former Flyers play, you can stream events on YouTube TV, PickleballTV and Fox Sports 2.

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