PSU racquets tuned up and ready

“I’m more excited than I’ve ever been,” says Marina Todd, senior on the Portland State women’s tennis team, who open their season this Friday in Corvallis.

Ranked eighth in the Big Sky conference (the men’s team was ranked ninth) by a preseason coaches poll, the tone of Todd was not merely optimistic, it was brimful with excitement.

And excitement in the PSU tennis program is not unusual—it’s the way they play tennis. Junior communications major Brent Wheeler, who had a strong preseason and advanced to the round of 32 in singles at the Nordstrom Open in November, is more than ready to begin the season against the 52-ranked University of Oregon.

“I’m so excited, I’m ready to go. I’ve been waiting for this day,” laughs Wheeler.

One gets the impression when talking with the players and coaches that this eagerness to play is not merely an ideal or a preseason routine, but the basis of their approach to tennis. Coaches Toby Krauel and Jay Sterling have had the pleasure to personally recruit the majority of the players. Krauel, who coaches the men’s team (which until this year was also coached by Sterling) has recruited two players, and Sterling, for the first time in his career, will field a team constituted entirely of players he recruited.

This means that the excited approach is a direct result of the coaches’ visions for their teams.

“I want guys that are still passionate about tennis,” says Krauel. “A lot of guys when they hit college and get a scholarship, or hit the D-1 level, they feel like they’ve peaked.”

These players—both men and women—don’t feel as if they’ve peaked. Hardly. In fact, they feel as if they’ve just begun.

Dane Vorster, a transfer student from Australia who came to Portland for the exposure and opportunity offered by American athletics, says that she hopes to one day play professional tennis.

Playing tennis professionally is hard (and also economically backward, to the point where one can actually lose money while winning a tournament), but to Vorster and her teammates, playing hard and working hard is the status quo—so much so that the PSU women’s tennis team has the astounding accumulated GPA of 3.9.

Krauel had similar sentiments. “I want every guy to graduate and I want them to graduate with honors.”

This may seem like a lot of pressure, but it is simply everyday business in the PSU tennis program. They play with heart. Or as Krauel put it, “If I have to dive, I dive.”

One can tell immediately when talking with the coaches and players and watching as the players compete against each other during practice, that this goes far beyond simply winning and losing. It is about being passionate, working hard and caring for what you do.

“We don’t fill stadiums,” says Sterling (home games are played at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver), “but that doesn’t mean we’re any less important.”

In the end, this excitement and work ethic comes natural to our PSU tennis program, and this, as coach Sterling pointed out, is great for PSU.

“The faces of these girls is the face of PSU. We work hard, and we win and lose with grace and class.”

Todd probably summed it up best, thinking on her final season at PSU: “I want to end with a bang. I don’t want to have any regrets, or look back and think I could’ve worked harder.”

The first conference match for women’s tennis is Feb. 9 at Northern Colorado. The men open up their conference play against Eastern Washington on Jan. 18.