Feature: K.J. Hippensteel
One would think that if you are currently the top-ranked singles player in the nation, you've made your mark on the sport. Throw in the fact that you've been part of an NCAA Championship doubles team and have reached the NCAA singles semifinal round as a sophomore and quarterfinal round as a junior. And by the way, you happen to be a three-time All-American selection who has won two ITA All-American singles championships in your career.
All these accolades might make an individual begin to wonder what's left to accomplish.However for Stanford's K.J. Hippensteel, it simply serves as additional motivation to continue to compete at a high level. And while the individual honors might be considered mere icing on the cake for what has been an illustrious four-year career for Hippensteel, the Cardinal senior believes his best is yet to come.
'I think the picture perfect way to end my career would be to win the NCAA Team Championship as well as the singles title,' explained Hippensteel. 'My main goal is to help our team finish as NCAA Champions but it would be great to complete the season as the No. 1 singles player in the country.'
Both goals are looking attainable so far. As Stanford entered a weekend match with Fresno State, the Cardinal was 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation but poised to move up in the rankings after winning the National Team Indoor Championships and No. 1 Georgia falling in the semifinals of the same tournament. The news was just as good for Hippensteel, who had won his first 10 matches of the year to lead the Cardinal at the No. 1 singles position. Those victories didn't come easy either- the Roanoke, Va., native, won his second career ITA All-American singles title earlier in October after losing just two sets in six matches against a field that included nearly all of the top players in the country.
Stanford head coach Dick Gould admits his senior is something special.'I think the sky's the limit for K.J.,' commented Gould. 'He has been unbelievably consistent at the NCAA Championships, winning the doubles title as a freshman, reaching the singles semifinals as a sophomore and the singles quarterfinals as a junior. K.J. is the only player I have had who has come close to achieving what Roscoe Tanner did in his time here (NCAA Doubles champion, two-time singles finalist, singles semifinalist)... He is truly a punishing player.'
Hippensteel's experience and leadership have proven to be valuable assets for the Cardinal off the court as well. One of two seniors on the 2002 squad, he has embraced the idea of serving as a mentor for the younger players and imparting his knowledge of the game on others.
'It really doesn't seem that way (referring to having been at Stanford four years now),' said Hippensteel, a human biology major. 'I feel like just yesterday I was the new guy around here. Players like Ryan Wolters did so much for me, as far as guiding me in college tennis and in college life in general. So I have no problem with assuming that leadership role and helping out this year's freshman class. As one of the upperclassmen, it's my job to make sure the whole team stays on the same page and continues to work at our goal of winning the national championship.'
Even if the Cardinal are crowned champions of men's college tennis when the tournament rolls around in late May, Hippensteel says he would like to continue making his mark in the sport.
'As soon as the NCAA's are finished and I've graduated, I'd like to try and make it on the professional tour and follow the recent successes of past Stanford graduates such as Alex Kim, Geoff Abrams, and Bob and Mike Bryan,' Hippensteel said.
And if he continues to play the way he's been doing to start the season, he just may get his wish.