She comes from a land down under
Born in Thailand and raised in Australia, freshman tennis player Thanapha “Bess” Bencharongkul, first picked up a racquet at the age of nine. She has not taken the average path to Santa Monica College, but since arriving in Santa Monica, she has made the most of her time. In fact, her time in Santa Monica actually gave her the nudge she needed to get back on the tennis court.
“I was just focused on studying. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on playing tennis here at all,” Bess said. “But I got here, and did a semester, and I was like hey, what else can I do here.”
Bess could not have picked a better time to join the SMC tennis team. With returning players Jessica Goldbeck, Victoria Mamatova, and the addition of Mary Katherine Ashmore, the Lady Corsairs could not have had a better shot at the elusive state title.
Although the Lady Corsairs entered the postseason undefeated, all it took was one mismatched opponent to end the team’s storybook run, as they lost to the Riverside City College Tigers in the first round. But despite the disappointing defeat, all Bess and her teammates could talk about was how pleased they were with each other and their performance on the season.
“This season went really well, we won the WSC Championship, and went undefeated [in the regular season] and everyone just played really well,” said Bess.
When asked about the uncharacteristic showing during the first round Bess responded, “I don’t know, it was just a bad day. Our hearts were set on going through to the next round.”
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Lady Corsairs tennis team is their team camaraderie. Yes, most sports teams are built on good relationships between teammates, but there’s just something different about this group of young women. A trait that even their coach picked up on.
“I feel like there’s a really tight connection and bond between all the girls on the team. Even coach mentioned that we’re one of the tightest teams that he’s had,” said Bess. “He’s a great coach. When I first joined the team, I was really rusty, and I didn’t think he would pay as much attention to me as the number ones. But he just kept on trying to improve me, which is something I really value.”
If Bess decides her profession will not include a tennis court and racquet in any way, back in Thailand her family runs a successful telecommunications empire. With her sights set on a business degree, Bess will find herself in a great position to further the family business if she so chooses.
“Telecommunications is pretty much the family business back in Thailand. My dream would to be a travel TV host, traveling, and eating. But in reality, I’ll probably just get into the family business," said Bess.
When Bess isn’t practicing her swing, or pursuing a degree in business, she can usually be found exploring the rich culinary scene right here in Los Angeles. A hobby that can be attributed to her world travels, where she honed her palate across numerous continents and countries.
“I’m a big foodie, definitely love the Bazaar in LA. I do travel quite a bit with my family. We always go to Japan at the end of the year, that’s why I love Japanese food,” said Bess. “But one of my favorite restaurants is in Paris, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, that was definitely a highlight.”
After dining at world-renowned eateries such as Jose Andres’ Bazaar and Paris’ L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, it wouldn’t come as a surprise, if Bess had lost her taste for more simple fare. But ask her about some of her favorites, and she will shoot down those assumptions faster than you can say deep fried.
“I do like fried food. I do like my fried chicken,” said Bess. “My favorite food from Thailand would be Som Tum, which is a green papaya salad. It’s like sweet, spicy, salty, it’s just a combo of everything.”
After Bess satiates all the cravings she denied herself during the season, it will come time to decide if she will return to SMC for an encore season. Bess is still weighing her options, but says it depends on where she’s accepted.
“I’m looking at Pepperdine, but they’re division one, and I’m like I don’t think so,” said Bess. “Club sounds fun though. As long as I still get to travel, and be part of a team.”
Even if Bess decides to forgo competitive tennis at the next level, it is a relationship that will not be easily broken. Even Bess knows that her days playing tennis are not over by a long shot.
“I’ll probably keep tennis in my life. I’m not ready to let go of it. It’ll definitely be a hobby,” said Bess. “I probably won’t be the next Sharapova, but…”
It’s a breath of fresh air to see such a talented young athlete, still take the time to travel and enjoy life in the midst of her athletic prime. Once she has secured her degree, the opportunity to travel, and see the world may not be as feasible as it once was.