April 30, 2008

Tennis Seniors Say Farewell After Climbing to New Heights

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Walking off the court a week and a half ago, senior men’s tennis player Rory Heggie must’ve had a bittersweet smile on his face. Playing Princeton’s senior co-captain, Heggie came from a set down and defeated Mark Gober not only to clinch the No. 6 singles match, but also to secure the clinching point in a 4-3 victory for the Red. It was the first time the men’s tennis team defeated Princeton in New Jersey in over fifty years.
Unfortunately for Heggie and the rest of the Red, his dramatic come-from-behind victory marked the final match played by the seniors.
Graduating this May for the men will be Heggie, Weston Nichols and Tongle Yu. Alongside them are women’s players Dana Cruite, Ashley Ebbert and Weatherly Schwab. Through four years on the hill, the women have posted a respectable 36–30 record overall, while their Ivy League Conference play struggled to an 8–20 mark. Similarly, the men served up a 43–41 overall record, while going 9–19 in Ivy League play.
With the final matches now behind them, the seniors have an opportunity to reflect on their fondest memories of Cornell tennis. For the women, the sense of team unity and bonding above all else will be missed.
“There’s a lot of things I’ll miss about Cornell tennis,” Cruite said, “but I think the biggest will be the feeling of struggling together as a team — of fighting through a tough match not just for yourself, but for your team. What I’ll miss is the sense that the importance of your match lies in its contribution to the team.”
“I will miss practicing and playing with the team the most,” Ebbert said. “As I walked off the court for the last time, I felt sad and nostalgic, but I mostly felt happy reflecting on all of the memories and good times I have had with the Cornell tennis team for the past four years.”
Soon to be inducted into the NCAA Tennis College Hall of Fame, Rob Weiss, the Carl H. Meinig ‘31 Head Coach of Women’s Tennis, echoed the sentiments of Cruite and Ebbert.
“I will miss Dana and Ashley for their work ethic,” Weiss said. “They both worked extremely hard at practice and had good attitudes towards their tennis. They both competed as hard as they could in matches and that is all a coach can ask for. I will take away from the presence of Dana and Ashley that you can excel at tennis and school simultaneously. They never lost focus with tennis or academics throughout the grueling year.”
The men, conversely, highlight the final weekend of play as perhaps the most exciting weekend of tennis they experienced either home at the Reis Tennis Center or on the road. The Red defeated both Penn and Princeton 4-3, with freshman Jeremy Feldman stepping up to win the clinching point 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-5, while Heggie won for Cornell at Princeton.
Feldman’s victory strangely mirrors that of Yu’s, who came back from a set down and 2-4 to win the third set against Penn in his freshman year.
“After I shook my opponent’s hand, the whole team swarmed onto the court to congratulate me,” Yu said, “I will forever remember the true feeling of camaraderie and team spirit from that moment. Four years later, Feldman accomplished the same feat, in dramatic fashion no less. As a spectator this time watching from the sidelines, it was only fitting that my last home varsity match as a senior should display shades of the past that brought back memories of when I was a freshman.”
The highlight of the four years for the women occurred off the tennis courts. Last season, on Spring Break in Arizona, the team stayed at Ebbert’s house near Camelback Mountain. The coach at the time, Laura Glitz, took a page out of Herb Brooks’s notebook and decided to hold a grueling workout in which the women would climb the mountain.
“Turns out, there were sections of the mountain that we had to climb almost vertically up,” Cruite recounted. “There were these poles stuck into the rock face, and we were all clinging to them for dear life, trying to pull ourselves up. A lot of the girls were really freaking out, one teared up a little. But, as cheesy as it may sound, it felt really good when we got to the top, standing there all together.”
On the court, Ebbert declared last season’s match against Dartmouth to be the most exciting.
“One of our seniors at the time, Nisha Suda, who is actually one of our assistant coaches played an amazing match, saved multiple match points and pulled it out in the end to win the match for us overall. I have never seen so much intensity and effort in a match before. When Nisha won, we all rushed onto the court and almost tackled her, we were so excited.”
Men’s coach Barry Schoonmaker will also miss his hard working seniors.
“Weston Nichols loves tennis,” Schoonmaker said. “I wish I could put his desire and work ethic inside all of our players. … As a junior he won numerous matches in both singles and doubles and was voted most improved player by his teammates. Rory Heggie is one of those unsung players on a team who never gets the limelight as much as they deserve. … All Rory did for four years was show up every day, work hard and win a lot, over 50 singles and 40 doubles wins. In addition, he was one our loudest guys when he wasn’t playing. I truly appreciate that commitment.”
It is indeed a bittersweet goodbye for the tennis seniors. After fours years of painting the lines with tennis balls, it is time to zip up the bag one last time on Cornell’s hardcourts.
“I had a great time being a part of this team and I am so glad that everything worked out the way it did,” Nichols said, “I am not sad though, I am happy to move on the next stage in my life. One great thing about tennis compared to other sports is that I can keep playing at a high level, potentially higher than college if I want to put in the time and effort. Thanks to the whole team, [coach] Schoon[maker], and all of the official and unofficial assistant coaches over the years, Ari, Marcus, Brunner, and Mike Bryant.”