Playing Division 1 Tennis

August 11, 2022

Jayson Memken

One of our largest portions of our Tennis program at Western is our junior tennis lessons. We have juniors that start as young as 4-years-old playing tennis. Last year we had over 400 juniors take lessons throughout the year at Western. Some of these juniors have set a goal of playing Division I collegiate tennis, and to achieve that level of play it takes hard work, dedication, and a lot of time spent on the court!  We wanted to give you a glimpse of what it means to achieve playing Division I college tennis. We asked two former Western juniors that achieved their goal to give us a glimpse into the Division 1 tennis world:

From Norah Balthazor, Sophomore at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN:

Being a student-athlete is hard. There is no other way to describe it. I had to work hard to become a standout and get to where I am. And now, I have to work even harder to keep excelling in an environment where everyone else is on the same level as I am and the expectations disappear above the clouds. I can’t pour all of my soul into just one goal either since I'm an athlete, but also a student too.

It’s safe to say that you get used to the juggling as the time passes by- academics and athletics, school and sport, homework, and workout. The mental toughness it took to get over your worst losses and keep your composure with your greatest wins is what you need to get through it all. Missing meals due to conflicting schedules. Losing sleep to get homework done. Racing to your workout as soon as class finishes up. Collecting the mound of assignments you are going to miss for a tournament. Losing more sleep to study for tests you have to take earlier. Demanding your body keep up intensity during practice despite lack of sleep and malnutrition. It’s all a vicious cycle that, with one slip-up, can create an even more fierce backlash. There are expectations you must uphold, and, if you don’t, your immediate future and long-term career can both be majorly affected.

Now, by no means is being a D1 student-athlete all fire and brimstone, or else I wouldn’t still be one. There is something, a deep-set pride and confidence, that you gain that keeps you sane and wanting more through it all. Simply understanding that you are in the 2% of high school athletes that were granted this opportunity creates strength, not to mention the ten other women that are all in the same boat as you, encouraging each other with wild cheers as everyone races towards the finish line together. You were a sole entity before all of this began, but now you’re part of something so much bigger than just yourself. You’re representing your team and your university with every move that you make. In that, you can take nothing but pride. Putting your all out on the court and in the classroom, busting every blood vessel in your body to get everything and anything done to be at the top, giving your best to your team and getting their best in return, and getting to look back on all the crazy memories with satisfaction after it’s all over is what it means to be a D1 student-athlete.

From Elijah Zifferblatt, Sophomore at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI:

I first started competing in tennis when I was thirteen years old. My goal was to play at a good Division 1 school. I have lived and breathed tennis, and it has been my only focus since I was thirteen years old. I did a great deal of practicing but did not participate in many tournaments. Many people said starting to compete this late would be extremely difficult to play well enough to play at that Division 1 level. Once I made the Division 1 team at Marquette many people said it was going to be very difficult to balance school and play at an elite level. They were right on both counts. It is a balancing act attending college and playing Division 1 tennis, but I am determined to excel in both.

Coming to Marquette, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I knew the balance was going to be a challenge. Majoring in exercise physiology and being in an accelerated Master's program along with competing, I knew I was going to have to be extremely disciplined with my time. I wake up every day at five or six o'clock to get breakfast and head to workouts. Then, I race to class drenched in sweat for three to four hours. This is a difficult part of my day, as I have trouble focusing, and need to concentrate on the subject at hand, so I am successful in school. This has been a steep learning curve, with the workouts, having two-hour practices and getting home to study until bed. For me, there is very little social life as the daily demands are big and success can only occur with every minute focused on the goals at hand. Your mind has to constantly be working through lack of sleep and no food for long stretches between lifts, practices, and classes. Not only are you pushing yourself every day, but your teammates and coaches have expectations for you to perform at the highest level. To do well in all your classes, continue to build your strength with daily workouts, and to perform at the highest levels on the court. You’re not only a representative of yourself, but of your school and your team.

When our season begins in January things pick up in a hurry. Matches begin and practices become much more intense. Our training schedule in terms of on-court training and lifts remains the same, but now travel becomes much longer and adds a new difficulty. Traveling each weekend on a plane or in an eight-hour bus ride to go to a competition each weekend is amazing, but at the same time incredibly difficult. Leaving on a Tuesday or Wednesday and missing classes consistently every week makes academics much more difficult, and you must teach yourself on the road, while staying present and focusing on the task at hand, which is competing. Knowing how hard it would be coming into Marquette, I wouldn’t change anything at all. Doing this brings me confidence and makes me grow stronger as a person and having to deal with so much coming at you at one time. I love competing and playing tennis more than anything in the world and that is the best part of my day. Most people consider that work, but for me it’s the best and easiest part. I look forward to more challenges being brought my way and the satisfaction that comes along with playing division one tennis for Marquette.

If you have a child interested in trying tennis for the first time or one with lofty goals of high level competition, consider Western tennis lesson or our junior Tennis U sessions that run all year long.

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