Category Archives: Tennis

Bouncing back

The Wheaton Thunder men’s tennis team traveled to central Florida for their four-game spring break trip. Coming off a three-game winning streak, the Thunder (3-3) looked to ride this momentum into their first match against Moravian College on Monday Mar. 6.

The Thunder maintained their momentum in a flawless 9-0 victory against Moravian College (1-6). The team started off the afternoon impressively handing three consecutive 8-0 victories by doubles partners seniors Justin Ancona and Matt Steiner, sophomore Dane Paulsen and freshmen Jeremiah Yi, and sophomore Josh Cheng and junior Karl Wenzel. Impressively,  Wheaton did not give up more than two games per set.

The next night Wheaton extended its win streak to five matches by defeating Oglethorpe University (3-6) in a 7-2 decision. Ancona and Steiner continued their strong play with a victory at #1 doubles. Paulsen and Yi followed by falling in a close 8-6 decision. The doubles matches concluded as Cheng and freshmen Andrew Bristol earned an 8-4 victory, giving Wheaton a 2-1 lead heading into singles.


The Thunder stayed aggressive as Ancona, Paulsen, Steiner and Yi won the first four singles matches. Cheng suffered a hard-fought loss to Matthew Magee at #5 singles. The Thunder capped of the match with senior Andrew Torok’s 6-1, 6-2 victory in the final singles match.

When asked about what kept the team fueled throughout the break, Dane Paulsen explained, “Our coach is a big fan of Jason’s Deli, so we went there a lot. We also went to McDonalds every night which was right by our hotel.”

The Thunder’s five-match win streak went on to get snapped in a closely competed 5-4 loss to Rhodes College (9-2) on March 8. Ancona and Steiner began the afternoon with an 8-5 victory but the Thunder went on to fall in the next two doubles matches. Down 2-1 heading into singles, the Thunder excitingly bounced back to hold a 3-2 lead after Ancona and Paulsen’s victories in the first two singles matches. The Thunder and Rhodes split the next two singles and Rhodes went on to take the last two singles, earning a narrow 5-4 victory over the Thunder.

Wheaton’s Florida trip concluded with a match against nationally ranked Coe College (12-3) on Thursday night, March 9. Ancona and Steiner’s 8-2 victory at #1 doubles followed with two consecutive losses in the last two doubles matches. Wheaton rebounded by tying the match 3-3 after Ancona and Paulsen’s singles wins. The match concluded with Wheaton falling in the last four singles matches to give Coe College the 6-3 decision.

“I am proud of how hard each of my teammates fought to make Coe earn every point on the court,” said Cheng after the match.

By the end of the trip, the Thunder’s record was 5-5. The team looks to bounce back as they compete for the conference title this upcoming April, a second-place finish in 2016.

Starting strong

The Wheaton men’s tennis team played John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to celebrate a 2-1 record this past weekend.

        The Thunder kicked off the weekend with a tough match against UW-Whitewater on Friday. Seniors Justin Ancona and Matt Steiner continued to perform well on the court as they captured a victory at #1 doubles. Unfortunately, it was not enough as the Thunder found themselves down 2-1 heading into singles play. Sophomore Dane Paulsen and Steiner kept Wheaton in the match, winning their respective singles matches to tie the match score at 3-3. Freshmen Jeremiah Yi continued the comeback as he earned a victory at #4 singles to account for Wheaton’s fourth match point. As the match continued, the Thunder dropped to more matches and fell in a final match score of 5-4.

        Although Wheaton lost in a close match, the team came away with a positive outlook. “This year we are having close matches with teams we used to not be able to hang with,” said Steiner.

        The men used this momentum in their next two matches on Saturday as they took on Grinnell College and Ohio Wesleyan University. Ancona and Steiner continued to play well at #1 doubles as they gave Wheaton one match point heading into singles play. Ancona gave the Thunder a key victory, leading the Thunder’s comeback at #1 singles with a 6-0, 6-0 victory. The Thunder continued with this momentum as they won four of the six total singles matches. This gave the team an exciting 5-4 match victory.

        Later that afternoon, the Thunder followed a similar storyline against Ohio Wesleyan University. Wheaton continued to dominate in the singles play as Ancona, Paulsen and Steiner won the first three singles matches. Senior Andrew Torok was then able to give Wheaton a much-needed victory to give them another close 5-4 match victory.

        Although the season is still young, the Thunder are showing some early potential. “We all put in a lot of work this offseason in the fall and it’s really been paying off,” Steiner said.

The work the team has put in on the court has certainly shown these past few matches. The team-building that is going on off the court is also having a positive effect on the team.

“I really want to build team unity this year through small groups and doing things together as a team outside of tennis,” Steiner explained as one of the senior leaders of the team.

        The Thunder look to build on their early success as they take on Wabash College on Saturday at the Centre Court Athletic Club in Hanover, Ill.

Women’s tennis recap

As the school year is entering full-swing, it will be very hard to say that anyone has begun 2016-2017 in better fashion than the Wheaton women’s tennis team. Over Labor Day weekend when many freshmen visited Chicago for the first time and students played Spikeball on the beaches of Lake Michigan, the Thunder hosted three different opponents over three consecutive days with one consistent outcome: dominance. The team forged their way through Hanover College, Edgewood College and Luther College with a total record of 26-1.

Led by junior Katie Park at first singles, the Thunder went undefeated through 18 singles matches in three days. Park told The Record, “Like every team at Wheaton, we practice seriously and push each other every day in a really good way.”

In this case, serious practice makes for serious wins on the court, but there may be another secret behind their success.

When asked about what makes her playing style unique and successful, Park explained, “It’s important to understand that the amount of time we are actually playing tennis is only a fraction of the game, and it’s what you do between points that makes a difference. If you look at the game shot for shot, a lot of players have similar skills and can hit great shots, but it’s often the emotional and mental aspects that separate one from the other.”

When the game gets rough or she needs a moment to slow things down, Park will pick something in nature to fixate on as a reminder of the beauty of God’s creation. Then, focused and confident, she bounces the ball a few times and sends a powerful serve over the net.

In many ways, this very concept is foundational to the Wheaton athletics program. Between every serve, rally, ace, touchdown, goal and spike, the Thunder seek to distinguish themselves in the little things.

Last Tuesday, Sept. 6, marked the first loss for the Thunder as they fell to UW-Whitewater 2-7. Junior Miranda Kay and sophomore Emma Westwick captured the only two victories for the Thunder at third and sixth singles, respectively. Their next home match is next Thursday as they start CCIW play against Millikin University at 5:30 p.m.

Thunder’s hunger satisfied

Due to the longevity of tennis matches, Saga is always closed by the time the team completes its matches. With the need for a late recovery meal before starting on any last-minute homework, the team heads over to “their spot” on East Roosevelt Road. But which restaurant is it?

“There’s not really any discussion around where we’re going to eat anymore,” senior Emily Jones explained, “it’s always Chipotle.”

With a five-match winning streak, the results clearly speak for themselves.

After a long two-week break, the women’s tennis team took to the courts this past Tuesday to face off against North Park University. The Thunder hosted the matches here on Wheaton’s campus looking to protect their undefeated 4-0 CCIW record.

In the battle for number-one singles, junior Katie Park swept her competition in two sets by scores of 6-3 and 6-3. Senior Emily Jones followed suit for number-two singles as she also won in two sets 6-3 and 6-4. Number-three singles junior Miranda Kay cake-walked her way to a 6-0 and 6-1 victory, as well.

The rest of the team’s singles players, junior Kirstie White, sophomore Sara Magnuson and sophomore Emma Westwick all dominated their North Park opponents with wins by scores of 6-0 and 6-0 for all three players.

The Thunder’s number-one doubles players, Park and Jones, were also victorious by an 8-5 score. Number-two doubles players, Magnuson and Kay, defeated the Vikings’ number-two doubles team 8-2. Finally, the number-three doubles team of sophomore Kate Booker and Westwick walked away with a win, too, by a commanding score of 8-0.

“The CCIW has been getting a lot more competitive in the last few years, and we have definitely seen that this past week,” Jones explained. “We can’t overlook any opponent and have to go into each match with the mindset that we have to play our best to win. It’s been good preparation as we get ready for our toughest matches coming up in the next two weeks.”

Wheaton continued its undefeated conference streak by winning, again, pushing their CCIW record to 5-0. Out of conference, the team is 3-1 for an overall record of 8-1. North Park continues to search for the team’s first conference victory.

Unfortunately for the Thunder, the team will not be able to stay in the Wheaton area for homecoming weekend as the women will be traveling to Carthage College on Friday and Carroll University on Saturday. As long as there is a Chipotle in the area, Thunder fans should be fairly confident in the team’s ability to walk away with two victories.

Making immaculate mistakes

Objectively, tennis is perhaps one of the most irrational and unlikely parts of my life.

It has been the source of disappointment, fear and frustration at the rigid mercy of the black nets and white paint that dictate whether a shot is in or out, well-executed or poorly played. Because of tennis, I know what it is like to pour myself into a goal just to fall short over and over again. I know what it is like to barely miss qualifying for the state tournament three years in a row. I know what it is like to be cut from a team after an underwhelming tryout. I know what it’s like, after 15 years, to feel pressured to prove myself to others because I am still insecure about my game.

I know the hurt that comes with trying and failing. Yet, after years of practices, tournaments, workouts, injuries, tryouts, cuts, wins and losses, I realize that tennis is not only part of my life but inseparable from it.

In all these years of playing tennis, I have never once seriously considered letting it all go.

From an early age, I began to realize that the lessons I learned through this sport went far beyond strategy and technique. As I learned how to hit groundstrokes, volleys and serves, I also learned how to handle pressure, make quick decisions and stay positive in tough situations — tennis was teaching me about life.

The structure of a tennis match lends itself to personal growth. Tennis is unique in that, for the most part, it is inherently individualistic. There are only two to four players on the court at a time, and in most tournaments there is little to no coaching allowed. Fans are expected to stay relatively quiet, and most matches are played without officials, leaving the players to make their own line calls and keep track of the score.

Tennis is also an untimed sport. In theory, a tennis match could literally go on forever. To name one extreme example, in the first round of the 2010 Wimbledon tournament, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played for over 11 hours over the course of three days before a winner was determined. To make matters more extreme, once the players enter the court, they don’t leave it until the match is complete. There is no halftime, and water breaks are limited to a mere 90 seconds after every other game and 120 seconds after each set. Furthermore, it has been found that, on average, less than 20 percent of match time is actually spent playing. In high-level tennis, where most players have comparable skills and experience, the ability to focus and reset between points and develop routines during the remaining 80 percent becomes increasingly important.

With so much indefinite “alone time” on the court, there is lots of potential for pressure, frustration and uncertainty to overshadow focus, confidence and enjoyment. And for me, this has often resulted in fear.


At a young age, I struggled with a heightened sense of guilt. I remember as a child making mental — and sometimes physical — lists of everything I had done or might have done wrong and feeling the constant throb of my confused conscience that would only be relieved by “confessing” my guilt to someone. I would often go to bed in tears and wake up fearful of starting a new day that would inevitably bring more mistakes.

I also began to rely on others, especially my dad, to assure me that I could move on from the things I felt guilty about — everything from “lying” that I liked my babysitter’s socks to thinking a bad thought. Even with this assurance, I began to take other people’s disapproval, approval and forgiveness much more seriously than I took God’s — I was more concerned about feeling clean than accepting and trusting that God had actually forgiven me.

This translated to how I approached tennis. Even before starting a match, I was already afraid of accidentally making a bad call or getting into a conflict with my opponent. I would sometimes win a match but feel guilty because maybe, just maybe, I had done something wrong and did not deserve to win. Fear was breaking down my spirit.

My dad, who is also a tennis coach, taught me that one of the most fundamental lessons in tennis is to keep your eye on the ball. When a player intently watches the ball, they enter into a new realm of perspective and focus. Yet, staying focused on the ball — the vehicle that directs the entire game — tends to be the easiest task to forget.

How often do we do this to God? How many times have I gone through a day only focused on accomplishing my list of tasks without keeping God’s agenda in mind? How often, blinded by my guilt, did I overlook the one who was offering me sight?

One of the most memorable and instructive matches of my tennis career was one that almost turned out to be a quick, uneventful loss. To grasp the significance of this match, it is important to understand the basic system of tennis scoring. A tennis score is broken down into games, which consist of individual points, and sets, which consist of games. To win a match, you typically need to win two out of three sets, to win a set, you need to win six games, and to win a game, you have to win four points.

On this particular day we were playing the best two out of three sets, and in a short time my opponent had gained and stretched the lead, winning the first set 6-1 and leading 5-0 in the second set. Up to this point I was hardly a contender in the match — my misses were interspersed with her winners, and I felt like there was nothing I could do against her.

But at that moment of what looked like hopelessness, when I was only a point or two away from losing the match, something changed. I remember making the decision that I was going to try to make this match last as long as I could. I told myself that the match was far from over and that I just needed to focus on playing one point at a time. And slowly, one point at a time, the match began to shift. This shift was accompanied by a profound sense of calm and peace about my play and about the results. I ended up winning that set in a tiebreaker and then going on to win the match.

That day served as a lesson in looking away from the final score and towards the individual points. I needed to take my eye off of the target and put it back on the ball. This experience is one that I can still reach back to as a reminder to keep fighting even when the finish line seems out of reach, whether it be in tennis or life.

Tennis may be an individual sport, but I never play alone. God’s hand of provision, faithfulness and power is made clearer to me through tennis, and when I truly play for him and not myself, I feel his peace and presence. While I still struggle with many of the same things that concerned me when I was younger, I realize that at the core, tennis is a game, and we are imperfect players in need of a higher purpose and source of strength. On the Wheaton tennis team, our goal is to play first for God and then for each other. It is such a blessing to have teammates and coaches that desire to have this focus.

Tennis, then, is not only a rational but also an inseparable part of my life because God has used it to meet me at my place of greatest weakness. Day by day he is casting out my fears with his perfect love so that I can play for him both on and off the court.

Women’s tennis preview

As the sun beats down on the tennis court, the squeak of tennis shoes and the bounce of tennis balls echo across campus. Fresh off their 10th visit to the NCAA DIII Women’s Tennis Tournament, the Thunder are poised to make strides this fall to allow them to repeat the feat next spring.

After losing Julie Buursma, the 2015 CCIW Player of the Year and 2015 CCIW Singles Champion at number one-singles, the Wheaton women’s tennis team’s first task will be to replace this stellar graduate.

Expected to fill this void is junior Katie Park, who was the number-two singles player on the team last year. In fact, in the team’s postseason loss to Gustavus Adolphus, Park was the only singles player to win her match.

Senior Emily Jones will also play a large role in continuing Wheaton’s women’s tennis tradition of excellence. Last year’s number-three singles player, Jones was named to the Second-Team All-CCIW team to conclude last season and posted an impressive record of 18-2 at number-three singles.

The Thunder will need yearlong performances from Jones and Park similar to those from last spring during the CCIW AQ Tournament. The Thunder narrowly defeated the Vikings by a score of 5-4 in the championship game, giving them an automatic bid to the NCAA DIII Women’s Tennis Tournament.

After a razor-thin margin of victory for the team, head coach Jane Nelson explained, “Jones and Park played the best matches I have ever seen them play. Both of them really rose to the occasion when the team needed them the most.”

The team’s only other senior, Anna-Katherine Barrett, is also expected to lead the way in doubles competition after a 12-3 record at number-two doubles alongside her partner, Jones, during the season last fall. Barrett and Jones also finished third at number-two doubles during the 2015 CCIW Championships.

“The first [team goal] is to connect with each other and grow closer as teammates,” Barrett explained in reference to her team’s fall ambitions. “Once we do that, I think we will have a really good chance at achieving our more measurable goal, which would be to win our conference tournament.”

Despite not winning the CCIW Tournament for the first time in 10 years last fall, the team is focused and hopeful that this year will not be a repeat of the last as they head into the beginning of this season.

“As easy as it can be to look ahead, we need to take each day of practice as seriously as any competitive match so that regardless of what happens at conference, we know that we did our best,” said Park. “I’m continuously inspired by the hard work, determination and camaraderie I see in my teammates and coaches both on and off the court.”

Women’s tennis: Oct. 23, 2014

With individual wins at fourth and sixth singles and first and third doubles, the Thunder women took home their 10th conference championship in as many years and their 20th title under head coach Jane Nelson.

“I was really proud of the team,” Nelson said. “They fought hard in all of their matches and performed well under pressure this weekend. Our two captains, Lauren Schlabach and Taylor Parrish were really motivated to get this title because it was 10 in a row. Their leadership was invaluable.”

Freshman Kirstie White won the title at number four singles, junior Erika Nelson won sixth singles, junior Julie Buursma and freshman Katie Park won first doubles, and Nelson took third doubles with freshman Miranda Kay.

Women’s tennis

With two 9-0 wins in CCIW meets against Illinois Wesleyan and Millikin last weekend, the Thunder women moved to 6-0 in conference play this season. Wheaton has dropped only one match and won 53 in conference meets, and has not lost a match since an 8-1 victory over Augustana on Sept. 13.

Though they were scheduled to host both matches, weather forced them to move to Centre Court Athletic Club in Hanover Park.

Wheaton will close out its conference regular season on Saturday in Kenosha, Wis. against Carthage College. CCIW championships will then take place next weekend in Bloomington.