Q & A With Senior Lauren Summers
April 7, 2010
Lauren Summers had just one year of competitive tennis under her belt when she walked on to the Washington team in the fall of 2006. An elite junior ski racer for much of her youth, tennis for Summers was a hobby at best. The Edmonds native captured a Junior Olympic Alpine Ski championship, but although college scholarships were presenting themselves, Summers was losing interest. She gave up the sport competitively, and made the rare if not completely unprecedented move from the slopes to the tennis court.
Blessed with a natural athleticism, Summers was able to make the Husky squad, yet due to a number of injuries to an already thin roster, she suddenly found herself in the starting lineup, facing women who had perhaps a decade more experience than she. The Huskies, and Summers, took their lumps in the 2006-07 season, winning just five matches, and Summers was never able to get into the win column in singles, though she did earn two doubles wins.
Over the next three seasons, however, the Huskies have rebuilt under head coach Jill Hultquist, climbing back into the Top-25, and are on track for their third-straight NCAA Championships appearance. Since that rough first introduction to elite college tennis, Summers has played only during individual tournaments in the fall, yet she has persevered, improved, and always been there for her team in a supporting role.
Summers, Joyce Ardies, and Aleksandra Malovic make up the 2010 senior class that will play its final two home matches this Friday and Saturday against Stanford and California. She took some time before Tuesday's practice to talk about some of the hard decisions she faced as a walk-on, but the reward for seeing it through.
GoHuskies.com: Hard to believe your last home matches are a few days away?
Lauren Summers: It does seem like it's over really fast. I'm not really ready to leave. Halfway through I think everyone hits a slump where they think, `Oh I'm practicing so much, this is so hard, and I don't know if I can stick with it.' But now I'm in such a groove of playing tennis that it's kind of hard to know that I'm going to be done soon. Now I'm looking forward to coming to practice every day, and looking forward to postseason matches. So it will be different to not have that anymore, and not have any sports anymore.
GH: So did you have one of those slumps yourself?
LS: (laughs) I think a lot of walk-ons do. When I came I wasn't ready to play. I was thinking I would be sitting out practicing, because I'd never had match experience. But then I just jumped in and played. Then after better people started coming (to UW) and I realized I wouldn't be playing anymore, that was kind of hard. School got hard and balancing everything at some point was really overwhelming. But after that freshman/sophomore year, after you learn to manage everything, that's when you realize that you really like it, and you really want to be there. You can handle it all and you don't have to quit to have time to do everything.
GH: So what made you decide to stay? Did you consider going elsewhere to try and get more playing time?
LS: I emailed the coaches knowing I was going to walk on, just because I started tennis so late. No one had really alluded to the fact that I could have played anywhere else before I came to college. All the schools I applied to were big schools, and big sports schools too. All D-I. I never had really thought about going to a D-II or D-III school. I'm from here so I knew I'd like going to school here. After my freshman year I really couldn't leave because I loved being here. And school's always a priority, and getting a science degree from here was important. I love the team and it's really awesome to be part of a Pac-10 team, especially a Pac-10 team that got better and better every year I was here. I don't think playing No. 1 at a lesser school would give me a better feeling than playing for a big school where I don't get to play in the lineup.
GH: Obviously that first year was rough for you and the team. How have things changed on the team with more success?
LS: It's very different. I think when we were struggling freshman year, there wasn't a lot of pressure on people if they lost, and I think our team hung together a lot more. I think we had really good chemistry. But when it gets more competitive and we get higher ranked, and practice gets harder, and coaches get harder and everyone gets busy off the court. On the court I think we're a lot better. Just being confident and cheering each other on and fighting, that kind of attitude.
GH: How hard was it freshman year for you getting called on to all of a sudden start in singles?
LS: It was like a deer in headlights. I'd only played a handful of tournaments, and I just started playing tournaments my senior year in high school. Besides that I'd played maybe a few when I was like twelve. But I thought I was ready because I'd been practicing with the coach and my tennis had gotten a lot better, but I was not ready for that level of tennis. Coming in from high school tennis, where I was winning 6-0, 6-0 all season. Then I got a taste of it playing tournaments senior year, but I was like, `I'm just nervous, I'll get the nerves out.' But the whole year, every single time I walked on the court I was just so scared, because I didn't have the match play experience to be able to play like I practiced. It was hard because I really wanted to win, and I just didn't have the experience to do it. And the harder I tried the harder it got, because the more pressure I put on myself. The coaches I'm sure didn't know what to do about it (laughs).
GH: What other sports did you focus on growing up?
LS: I ski raced my whole life. I was supposed to ski race in college, and I was trying to decide where I was going to take a scholarship at to ski, but I decided to quit and start tennis. I was getting burned out, but yeah I was much, much, much better at skiing (laughs). I ski raced for like fifteen years, so while they were all out playing tennis ...
GH: How would you define what your role has been on the team?
LS: I've definitely been really supportive, and been there to cheer and been there to sit on people's courts when they're having a hard match. Been there to talk to people afterwards and just do my best at practice to make sure people are getting the drills they need, and that I'm doing my best to make them have the best practice. I've tried to step up as a leader but that becomes hard when your tennis isn't at the same level. But I've done the best I can to be a leader with Joyce and Malo. Just try to stay positive and do the best I can do.
GH: It must have been pretty humbling to go from a sport where you're one of the very best to starting almost from scratch.
LS: A lot of people ask, `Why would you ever do that?' Still to this day, even my teammates still ask me. `Wow, you could have gone to the Olympics ... why'd you do that?' (laughs).
GH: So do you think you had the ability to one day make the Olympic team?
LS: Yeah, I think so, if I would have kept with it. A lot of my friends ended up in the Olympics this year. But I was burned out so it's hard (to see it differently). I did exactly what I wanted at that point. And this is a true college sport. Skiing you're up on the mountain, no one's there cheering, you don't have your school coming to watch you. This is a true college sports experience. It's definitely hard, because I know what it's like to be winning, and have people interviewing you and being on TV. It's exactly like with (Denise Dy), you know? I'm like, `I remember that.' But I'm still proud that I got here, and I got to go to school all four years, and I'm proud to be able to do both sports too. It's a different kind of achievement.
GH: Were any of your friends people would know from Vancouver?
LS: Yeah, Megan McJames, Alice McKennis, Laurenne Ross. But they put in a lot of time during college that I didn't put in, so you never know. I always joke around because I have one more year of eligibility in a second sport (laughs). If I transferred for a year and went and skied that would be pretty cool.
GH: What will you be getting your degree in, and do you have much school left?
LS: Microbiology and environmental health (double major). I have another year of school left, then probably applying to medical school. But not necessarily. I'll be somewhere in health care or medical research. I'll take next year to work and decide where I want to be.
GH: As far as your tennis goes, how much better do you think you are now than when you started out?
LS: Oh, I got a lot, a lot better. Going back and watching my high school team, it's amazing to see how much better I got in the last four years. I mean it's still hard to realize because everyone on our team got better, so it's hard to see until you step back and look at where you were. But I definitely got a lot better.
GH: And then at least in the fall how much more comfortable are you on the court?
LS: Still nervous (laughs). But I won a few matches in the fall, and Ashley (Anderson) and I were in the finals in doubles (at St. Mary's Invite), so that was cool. Doubles is a lot better. Ashley and I played together a lot.
GH: Talk a bit if you could about having Ashley on the team, as another walk-on going through some of the same things, from near the same area (Mukilteo).
LS: Yeah, we didn't know each other before we came. We'd met once, but we live together now too. She went through the same struggles a lot of walk-ons go through. `Should I transfer and play number one somewhere? Should I try and get a scholarship? If I stay will I maybe not play for the next four years, or do I risk it?' She told us she was transferring and then changed her mind and said she would stay. She's gotten a ton better, so it would be cool to see her play in the doubles lineup next year. She's still improving a lot and really, really wants it.
GH: You'll be finishing your career along with Joyce and Aleks. What can you say about them as teammates?
LS: I never really thought it was true that you end up being closest with the people in your class, but that's definitely true with both of them. I'd say they're my closest friends on the team. We can all relate because we've gone through the same things the last four years. We get along really well off the court too. It's been a good friendship to make the last four years.
GH: All in all, do you think your tennis career enhanced your college experience?
LS: Well, actually I think being a walk-on is the best of both worlds. I got to play, that was awesome, that usually never happens. I got to travel the last three years, so I got a taste of both of those. But when school got harder the last two years, I didn't travel as much, and I got to have the college experience as more of a normal student. I got to meet a ton of people because I was home more often than everyone else. I had more time than they did to just get a balance of being a student so I think that was one of the best experiences I could have.