By Tyler Anderson ’07
Former Men's Tennis Team Captain
Individual sports at Northwestern, including tennis, golf, cross country and track and field, provide different opportunities to interact with the competition. While teamwork is essential in volleyball, football, baseball, softball and basketball, the key in individual sports is personal accountability. There isn’t a teammate to make up for the mistakes of a runner who runs a slower sprint or a golfer who finds the bunker.
Individual competition also means much more individual interaction with opponents, and Northwestern athletes take advantage of the one-on-one time with the so-called “enemy” to befriend them and show them the Northwestern difference. Walking a golf course for 18 holes with three opponents, squaring off with a player in a singles match or waiting for the next race can take hours each, providing ample time to get to know your opponent on a personal level.
“Tennis is ‘in your face’ competition,” said John Sanny, UNW tennis coach. “Players have to constantly talk to their opponents with scores, line calls, and sometimes objections and challenges. To teach players to be intense and competitive in this game, while treating their opponents with honor, is sometimes very difficult. The culture of tennis even includes the handshake after a match.”
Tennis player Josh Fread ’11 said there is satisfaction in playing tennis even though the community support for his sport is different. “It’s not about having tons and tons of fans. It’s playing with your team. It’s about community and leadership.”
These “individual” Eagles take the challenge seriously though, and while the difference is difficult to measure, it would be hard to deny it exists. Sanny said it isn’t unlikely for a coach or a team to mention how they’ve enjoyed playing the Eagles. “University of Hawaii-Hilo actually invites us back to play them as often as we can, simply because their players have had such a fun, pleasant experience playing our teams,” he said.
Fread even acknowledged that one of his goals as a player is “making sure the other team has a good time while playing.”
With or without fans or accolades, Eagle athletes in individual sports strive to reflect their spirit of sportsmanship—whether in a match across town or on an island in the Pacific.