LOOK AT US: The University of Illinois team with coaches Sujay Lama and JoAnne Russell (front)
I was settling in my seat for our flight west when eight of my players, my assistant and my trainer walked into the plane. They were dressed in orange and blue sweat suits and in great spirits. I was very proud of how professional they looked and how vibrant they were. I decided than to write about my team and what they mean to me.
One of the great things about being a coach for a college team like the University of Illinois is to have a chance to incorporate the individual aspects of tennis into a team concept. This is definitely a challenge and lot more difficult than it looks. My philosophy is very simple: "the chain is only as strong as the weakest link". Everybody on the team has to be on the same page and marching to the beat of the same drummer for us to be successful.
My role as the head coach is not just teaching the finer points of tennis. At times I am a motivator, a psychologist, a taskmaster, a team builder and a mentor. I enjoy these roles immensely and I am very fortunate to have a wonderful group of young women who are motivated both on and off the court. One great thing about the US is the opportunity it provides athletes to pursue their sports careers as well as to continue their education. And can you believe that they receive a full scholarship to do just that? It is worth more than $ 250,000 over five years.
Diversity is the strength of our team. We have power hitters, counter punchers, retrievers and serve and volley specialists as well as all-court players. They have diverse academic majors such as electrical engineering, pre-med, business, accounting and social work. We have Chinese American, Indian American, Russian, Cypriot and Peruvian players, among others, on our team. It sure is a colourful group and there is never a dull moment with them.
My assistant is JoAnne Russell, a former Wimbledon doubles champion. From Naples, Florida she is a tremendous inspiration for all of us. Not only is JoAnne a former #1 doubles player in the world, she also made the top 10 playing singles. She is our energizer and brings passion and energy to practice day in and
Meet my top six players:
Macall Harkins - This native of Los Angeles is a six-foot serve and volleyer who will certainly play at Wimbledon one day.
Momei Qu - A brilliant student who hits with two hands off both sides, this Chinese immigrant is also a tenacious competitor.
Brianna Knue - She's the heart of our team, the ultimate 'team player' from the windy city (Chicago).
Emily Wang - A power hitter and an extremely compassionate person, from Lawrence, Kansas.
Shivani Dave - She has Agassi-like ground strokes. A social butterfly, her parents are from India.
Alejandra Cuadra - This clay court expert from Lima, Peru aspires to work for the United Nations.