Reported by Emma Lindberg
When you consider the most exciting sports, tennis may not necessarily be the one you first think of. But the leaders of the George Fox University (GFU) men’s tennis team can confidently say that you will not be disappointed if you attend a match this year! “[Tennis matches are] the most fun sporting events at Fox by a clear mile,” said senior Nick Ekern.
Last season, the team made up of 10 freshmen and a few upperclassmen focused on laying a strong foundation. Now that they have built that, the goals are three-fold. The first is to get an average of a 3.0 GPA or above; the second is to have lots of “team time” and get to know each other on a deeper level; and the third is culture.
“I summarize [culture] as, if you were to watch the team for a week, on and off the court, what things will you see? What are you guaranteed to see?” said junior Justin Barton. “Things like good character, positive energy, working on grades and studying together, et cetera.”
These goals are aimed at making the players well-rounded both as athletes and as people. Even in just 20 minutes of talking with four of the leaders, it was clear that they have taken this to heart and worked to embody this positive culture.
“Transparency, openness, and--this a cliche, but I wanna say--unconditional love. I feel like that helps us to operate as a unit and to be able to exercise what we bring to the table without hesitation,” said Ekern.
The team has really progressed in this area since four years ago. They are able to have difficult conversations with one another with the understanding that it all comes out of a place of wanting the best for one another and the team as a whole, explained senior Spencer Watanabe.
This culture, combined with their love for the sport and the deep brotherhood within the team, makes for matches that are competitive, “rowdy,” and all-around fun to watch. The men reminisced about amazing moments throughout their time on the tennis team, including a match in 102-degree heat, pushing through dehydration and heat exhaustion, when a GFU freshman beat a high-ranked player from Whitman College; and the day that Spencer Watanabe won his second All-American award on the same day he was recognized for his first All-American honor.
“Everyone was bawling,” Andrew Dickson said.
“You don’t go into a match expecting these moments to happen. You gotta be ready for ‘em but when they show up, it’s just an amazing feeling,” said Watanabe. “Our coach Neal calls it ‘a heightened sense of living’ and it’s hard to explain, but once you get a feel for what it’s like, it’s addictive.”
The players spoke of the mental aspect of the game of tennis that most people are not aware of. It is just you and your opponent on the court, and your mentality has to be just as strong as your physical ability. The sport requires a lot of critical thinking and adaptability because every match, every point, every opponent is different.
Andrew Dickson, senior youth ministry major, has three big reasons for why he loves tennis: “1. There’s more life lessons in tennis than, I think, in any other sport. 2. Tennis doesn’t build character, it reveals it. 3. Doubles is a lot like marriage. When I teach doubles, I say, ‘Imagine this is your spouse. How are you going to take care of them?’ You have to support your partner but also have to pick them up and challenge them at times.”
The team is itching to get back on the court and compete. GFU students who attend tennis matches this season can expect high-energy games, ones where you can get get up close and personal with the players. “We have fun with the crowd, you’re inches away from the fence!” said Dickson.
You will “bask in the energy that is GFU tennis,” said Barton. The passion and enthusiasm that radiates from these players is contagious. Dickson confidently asserts that tennis matches are the loudest events at GFU, solely because of the 18 guys on the team.
The first home match is on Monday at 9 a.m. against California Tech. But the match to watch for sure is on March 10 against Whitman College, who, according to the men, is our top competition this season.