Like father, like daughter: Competitiveness runs deep for Embrees

Jeremy Papasso
Fairview sophomore Hannah Embree, left, stares father Jon Embree, coach of the Colorado Buffaloes football team, in the eyes after Knights practice on Tuesday afternoon.

If there’s one thing Hannah Embree isn’t likely to be this weekend, it’s overcome by the pressure of trying to help the Fairview girls tennis team halt Cherry Creek’s 15-year run as state champs.

State tennis tournament? Pffsh.

Serving for match point in the family pickup game when your brothers and dad are screaming your name and doing jumping jacks? Now that’s pressure.

“It’s not on the up-and-up from the tennis etiquette standpoint,” Colorado Buffaloes football coach Jon Embree, Hannah’s dad, jokes about his family’s battles on the court. “Nothing rattles her, between what her brothers do to her, and myself, trying to win a point against her.”

Hannah, the youngest of the Embree bunch, no doubt has picked up on the family’s competitive fire. How could she not? When your dad is an ex-college football star, NFL player and coach for the biggest team in town and your brothers have both played college football, it’s sink or swim for the baby of the family — whether the game is tennis, basketball or gin rummy.

Maybe that’s why the Embrees get just as much enjoyment out of watching Hannah hit a winner on a Tuesday as they do when the Buffs notch a win or one of her brothers scores a touchdown on Saturday. They know she’s been put through the paces and keeps fighting.

“That’s all I always knew was just to win or try your hardest,” says Hannah, who notes that her dad still tries to run down every ball on the tennis court despite a bad knee. “We’re a competitive family, that’s for sure.”

Hannah, a sophomore in her first year at FHS, still has plenty of room to move up for the Knights in coming years. But she’s making her presence felt nonetheless at No. 4 doubles this season. She and partner Sonia Ghosh have rolled through most competition and enter state riding the momentum of a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing in the regional championship match.

She’s a player whom FHS tennis coach Susan Stensrud calls “very coachable” and one who is a good partner on the court no matter who she’s matched with.

“I’m happy for her,” says Jon Embree, who coincidentally is a proud Cherry Creek grad. “It’s just been great as a parent to see the strides she has made playing tennis and some of the success she’s been having being part of a great program. It’s great to see her having her own success and creating her own identity.”

There are perks for the coach, he says, watching his daughter play tennis compared to when he’s watching his sons — Taylor, who recently signed a free agent contract with the San Diego Chargers, and Connor, a current Kansas Jayhawk — play football.

For one thing, tennis isn’t his area of expertise.

“It’s a lot better because then I can just completely be a dad and cheer her on,” Jon says. “When you’re watching (Taylor and Connor), you’re always looking at it from a coach’s perspective.”

Being a part of such a high-octane family isn’t always easy, of course.

Hannah admits that it was tough when she first started competing and her dad couldn’t come to all of her events.

With spring football taking up much of his time in March and April, for instance, the coach was able to make just one of Hannah’s dual matches this spring, though he’s planning to get to Gates Tennis Center this week for state.

These days, though, Hannah understands that her dad is watching every chance he can. And she knows that when he can’t it’s usually because he’s at practice or out on the recruiting trail trying just as hard as she is to improve.

And when Jon hasn’t been watching this season, mom Natalyn — a former prep tennis player and all-around athlete herself — and Taylor — who’s been working out in Boulder this spring — have been fixtures at Fairview’s matches to represent the family’s rooting interests.

“He’s trying to compete,” Hannah says. “Trying to get better and push toward success, so I can’t blame him for wanting to do that.”

Competitiveness, after all, runs deep for the Embrees, and Hannah — who insists that she’s ready to beat her dad on the court one-on-one the next time she gets a match with him — carries that torch as proudly as any.

“I need more of her temperament,” Embree says. “She’s very even-keeled. She’s aggressive. She’ll fire it back at you at the net. That’s probably more me. But she has a great personality and a great temperament. She’s unflappable.”

Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshLindenstein